Fantasy often draws inspiration from reality, cushioning the blow of hard truths. But instead of trying to wrap profound truths in a soft derivative narrative, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald plunges headlong into discussing divisive politics, supremacy and hatred of the far right. Gone are the days when fantasy films would not borrow from the critical truths we live through everyday. The film draws politically tight and astute parallels with our current world that are impossible to ignore.
The second in the series of Potter sequels, Fantastic Beasts is sprinkled with the beloved characters and places that we grew up with, but it still manages to produce a plot that feels fresh, not overfamiliar. The central narrative – a misfit underdog taking on one of the greatest villains of all time – is identical to the Potter series, but the characters’ idiosyncrasies ensure that the story feels clearly distinct from the previous one. The real joy though, is finding JK Rowling’s voice, including her brand of outspoken politics, taking on our real world problems in this extension of her fictional world.
The very first, is the promise of supremacy. Supremacy and the belief that it’s a function of your birth is a stance adopted by the right wing everywhere. Deciding on what it means to be a wizard or a witch, and believing that you’re entitled to power simply by virtue of birth isn’t all that different from the nationalist majoritarian narratives we’re seeing popping up at home with Hindutva nationalists.
Once this definition of supremacy is established, it becomes imperative to protect the privilege of the privileged. The people calling for a Hindu Rashtra are a prime example of this in action – how is it that some Hindus, despite being a strong numerical and cultural majority in the country, feel like their religion and way of life is under threat?
This narrative of a threatened majority (oxymoron), is a carefully orchestrated one. When Grindelwald promises a turned world order, he is the veritable champion, one that promises to be a messiah for the wizarding world. The interesting similarity between him and Voldemort is that both promise power – sacrifices must be made, power wrested away from others and the interests of ALL wizards and witches must outrank others. Much like the supremacy of ALL Hindus, ALL white Americans. While Voldemort’s search for power was not wrapped up in a larger purpose, Grindelwald’s narrative is very similar to that of the right, his propaganda is a promise of a better tomorrow, acche din, which will never actually arrive. A clear, easily recognisable metaphor of fascism runs throughout the film, which may have come off heavy-handed to some, but has also been received as relevant by others.
Extremism in politics is our reality. We are each day pushed towards choosing sides. A reality that costs us relationships, friends and sours our equations with family members. The film doesn’t shy away from breaking this news to us right in the beginning, emphasising that the time of needing to choose a side is upon us. And even if we don’t consciously a side ourselves, our actions against one belief or another culminate in a de facto side being chosen anyway. The time for neutrality is past.
Admittedly, we’re all susceptible to promises of a better tomorrow. Characters in the movie too fall prey to their own craving for hope. But ultimately, whether you’re as gentle as Newt Scamander or a relative nobody in today’s India, it’s time to dig our heels in and fight back.
For there is always an opposition to every unjust regime. Where gentleness, empathy and love matter. Where the idea of a diverse togetherness thrives. Where there is an intellectualism deep seated in the idea of a collective, where there is space for everyone. And for every Grindelwald, there is a Newt Scamender and Albus Dumbledore. And for every Modi and Donald Trump, there is a free thinking citizen.
You can read more from Saumya Baijal on her blog saumyabaijal.blogspot.com.
Featured image credit: 2018 Warner Bros. Inc.