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What’s Up With That Giant Snake? A Parent’s Guide to Harry Potter Controversies

From outraged Christians to casting complaints, here is everything parents should know about controversies in the wizarding world.

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From the moment Harry Potter first arrived in bookstores more than 20 years ago, it became a cultural phenomenon. And with this unparalleled level of success, naturally, came a certain amount of controversy, as many readers found themselves outraged at different aspects of the beloved series. As a parent, you may find yourself wondering if this outrage is mostly manufactured nonsense or the source of real problems you may want to consider before letting your kid dive into the wizarding world. From outraged Christians to casting complaints, here is everything parents should know about controversies in Harry Potter.

Harry Potter Is Satanic

The first group to ever get outraged at Rowling’s book series were, perhaps unsurprisingly, religious folks (primarily Christians) who were worried that all the witchcraft and wizardry of the Harry Potter universe signified that it was secretly going to turn an entire generation of children into Satanists (despite the fact that Rowling is a Christian). There were protests and even book burnings in the late ’90s and early 2000s, as concerned parents all across America voiced their strong opposition to the Boy Who Lived. However, with time, most of this outrage has faded away, as many who initially were against the books realized they actually had a clear message of good triumphing over evil (not to mention the not-so-subtle Christ imagery in the titular teen wizard).

The House Elf Problem

Since the introduction of house elves in the Chamber of Secrets, many readers have complained that the entire existence of house elves is deeply problematic since they are essentially slaves and treated like second-class citizens by wizards, including many wizards who are otherwise shown to be decent people (Sirius Black’s treatment of Kreacher is particularly appalling). Many have argued that the existence of house elves is a metaphor Rowling uses to criticize slavery, as evidenced by Dobby proudly living as a free elf thanks to Harry but others still feel the existence of house elves without a clear resolution ultimately does more harm than good.

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Dumbledore’s Sexuality

In 2007,the same year Deathly Hallows was released, Rowling participated in a fan Q&A at Carnegie Hall and when a young fan asked her about Dumbledore’s love life, the author shocked countless readers by saying, “Dumbledore is gay, actually.” A small fraction of conservatives were outraged but for the most part, nobody seemed too offended by the news. Fans are curious if the upcoming Crimes of Grindelwald will finally dive into Dumbledore’s romantic life, as Rowling has said the Hogwarts headmaster was, at one time, in love with the infamous Grindelwald.

Whitewashing Lavender Brown

In the first five movies, Lavender Brown, mostly a background character, is portrayed as a black student played by two different actresses named Kathleen Cauley and Jennifer Smith. However, once Lavender became a more prominent character in the series in Half-Blood Prince, she was suddenly played by Jessie Cave, a white actress, without explanation. This caused many readers to accuse the films of white-washing, a fair accusation that Rowling has never really addressed.

Hermione’s Race

When the casting was announced for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play and sort of sequel to the original series, in late 2015 some were confused when Noma Dumezweni, an actress of South African heritage, was cast as grown-up Hermione, given that Emma Watson, a white actress, had played her in the films. However, Rowling tweeted her full endorsement of the casting, noting that Hermione’s race is never actually identified in the books. A few racists were still angry but for the most part, Rowling’s tweet was a more than satisfying explanation.

Casting Johnny Depp As Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ended with a massive twist, in which it was revealed that Percival Graves, the Director of Magical Security for The Magical Congress of the United States of America, was actually Grindelwald in disguise. But the surprising misdirection was overshadowed by the fact that Grindelwald was played by Johnny Depp, an actor who was involved in a controversial divorce where Amber Heard, his now ex-wife, accused him of being “verbally and physically abusive.”

Some have noted that once the two divorced, they released a joint statement saying “there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm” during their relationship. Rowling has defended the choice, writing on her website: “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.” However, many remain unsatisfied, wishing that Rowling had chosen a less problematic actor for this major role.

Nagini Was a Woman Before Becoming a Snake Slave

The latest Potterverse bombshell is still unfolding. When the final trailer for the second Fantastic Beasts was released, it dropped a huge spoiler: the movie will retroactively reveal that Voldemort’s evil pet snake, Nagini, was originally a human woman. A large portion of fans and critics have criticized this choice, partially because the actress playing the woman Nagini South Korean actress Claudia Kim. But, there’s also an issue with having one of Voldemort’s slaves be revealed to be a marginalized person feels icky. Because the film hasn’t been released yet, it’s tough to know exactly how this new plot point will play out. Fans are very mad right now, but Rowling is sticking to her wands. Her message? If you want to know how this all works, wait and watch the movie when it comes out.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out everywhere on November 16.-