The trouble with JK Rowling

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Crimes of Grindelwald was a fantastic masterclass in screenwriting for authors — it showed exactly what not to do. Crimes of Grindelwald is the second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise, primarily focused on the battle between Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) — a sort of Hitler/Churchill-esque match up with the final battle ending in 1945.

Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros)

The main story follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who is requested by Dumbledore to go to Paris and find Credence (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does, because Credence possesses an obscurus — a sort of ball of evil magical energy with massive destructive powers.

This is the first time so many characters with major screen time have been from diverse backgrounds in a Harry Potter film. But it’s not enough to just plonk them into an already bursting script. For example: casting a Korean actress to play Nagini, an 'Indonesian' (according to JK Rowling) creature that was originally found in Indian mythology points to the ham-fisted attempts at paying lip service to JK Rowling’s self-professed liberal ideology — the obvious errors highlight how much the showrunners don’t care about doing their research properly.

And even when you get past the obvious issues with this characterisation, Nagini herself does nothing except act as window dressing, and as a nod to Harry Potter fans, that yes, that snake Voldemort turns into a horcrux was an Asian woman once.

JK Rowling has been criticised many times over her treatment of minorities — saying Dumbledore is gay and Anthony Goldstein (a minor Harry Potter character) was actually Jewish post the books’ publication. It felt like JK Rowling was taking credit for something she’d never actually done.

Fantastic Beasts feels like she’s trying to fix this perception — albeit in the clumsiest way imaginable. New characters like Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), Nagini (Claudia Kim) and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) are all a healthy departure from Harry Potter’s homogenous cast and Dumbledore is finally explicitly shown to be gay on screen, but this is where the faint praise ends and the spoilers begin.

Leta Lestrange is the most fleshed out new character of colour. An enormous amount of time is filled with her backstory, both her romantic entanglements with the Scamanders and her connections to Credence and Dumbledore. The problem is that inclusion of a female character of colour fails to be progressive when all of these character building elements revolve around relationships with male characters and not about her.

 

"If this seems convoluted, it’s because it is. JK Rowling was reportedly was still writing the script when they were shooting and it shows."

 

And by the time you’ve figured out where she fits, she is killed by Grindelwald, motivating the Scamander brothers to unite and so falling into yet another tired trope. At most, her death leaves you with a vague sense of 'well, that would’ve been sad after maybe another two movies'. Think if Sirius Black had been killed at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban only just after we discovered his innocence.

Yusuf Kama was even more clearly a plot device — existing entirely for exposition. He is a Senegalese wizard on some misguided revenge quest that conveniently leads him to explain exactly why he’s on the revenge quest. The backstory he goes into involves a shocking section where a French man kidnapped a Senegalese woman because of her magical genetics, and had a child with her, the birthing of which she subsequently died from — Leta’s mother. It was a lumbering attempt at backstory which in the end didn’t have much relevance anyway except to bash the audience over the head with the worst of colonialism and make Leta’s backstory that much more depressing. Except, instead of thinking about Leta now you’re wondering about Yusuf, and wait — how does Credence come into this?

If this seems convoluted, it’s because it is. JK Rowling was reportedly still writing the script when they were shooting and it shows. She has obviously tried to write it like a novel — bursting with detail and at least eight subplots — and because of the sheer amount of new information the audience is expected to take in, the film falls flat. There is no time to build empathy for any of the characters when you’ve only just met them, while trying to piece together where they fit in the grand scheme.

JK Rowling should’ve written this story as a novel and given Warner Brothers something shorter, because even as a super fan — the plot was a total mess. The sad thing is, this could’ve been such a great vehicle for a well-represented cast, but like the rest of JK Rowling’s work, it falls short.

 

Eleanor Harrison-DengateEleanor Harrison-Dengate is a freelance writer and has previously contributed to SBS Life and Mugglenet.

 

Main image: Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros)

Topic tags: Eleanor Harrison-Dengate, J K Rowling, Crimes of Grindelwald, Harry Potter

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks for a really interesting review. I loved the movie but shared your misgivings. The movie seemed to be overflowing with ideas and lacking in focus on the essential story. On the other hand, I suppose I have enough faith in JK as a master story teller that I was happy to leave myself in her hands and enjoy the ride. I ended up enjoying the complexity and the richness of the movie and was not bored for a moment.
Robert Pelletier | 24 November 2018


One of my granddaughters is receiving J K Rowling's "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" as a gift some time late next month. The book has a very interesting cover and frontispiece. The back cover proclaims "A bubbling brew of mischief and magic - with lashings of humour".
Pam | 25 November 2018


I think perhaps J K Rowling may have milked the whole Harry Potter business about as far as it can be milked. Unless you are one of those who totally suspend belief and live in her imaginary world it will eventually begin to pall. Tolkien was not writing for commercial success and knew when to move on.
Edward Fido | 26 November 2018


That's a very analytic critique Eleanor. I havent seen the movie. But what struck me about her early works was her wonderful imagination. Dobby, the flying Anglia car, the whumping willow tree, Hagrid, the unicorn for example. I havent ever been bored watching one of the movies whereas the Lord of the Rings was a complete yawn in comparison. I think JK Rowling is a great fiction writer and the world is a richer place because of her writing.
Frank Armstrong | 27 November 2018


Harry Potter is second only to the Bible in all-time, world wide sales, despite a two millennia head start by the Bible. Clearly, either J K Rowling is a remarkable writer with a great story to tell or the vast majority of human beings are attracted to the fanciful, superhuman, magical and imaginary! I sincerely hope this latter does not apply to the Bible!
john frawley | 29 November 2018


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