JK Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and its companion piece, A History of Magic in North America, have been out in book form for a while. But the recent release of a movie adaptation has given social justice warriors renewed concern over the story’s cultural appropriation of Native American culture and imagery.
Tempers are particularly high at University of Oklahoma, where Native American students and faculty are calling out the bestselling author for failing to accurately portray their traditions in a purely fictional work.
According to one student, who spoke to the school’s Oklahoma Daily student newspaper, Native Americans are not “mythical beings” and should not be portrayed as such, ever.
“When you put it in a science fiction context, it does reinforce those stereotypes that we’re mythical, that we don’t even exist really as people,” Brittany McKane told the OD. “We’re not mythical beings, we’re not witches and wizards. We’re people and our cultures are still alive just like we are.”
McKane does not go on, strangely, to criticize Rowling’s entire work, which features witches and wizards from a variety of global cultures, few of which are known to actually practice magic. Her tale of a British wizard fleeing to America with a suitcase full of bizarre, “fantastic beats” is not, as far as we can tell, based on a true story.
But it seems that anything short of a completely accurate, instructive portrayal of Native Americans in any form of entertainment is acceptable to OU’s prickly activists, who say they were damaged by Rowling’s supposed indifference to their plight.
“While her intentions weren’t to be harmful or offend anybody, she had the option to reach out to Native communities and to see what was acceptable, but she didn’t.” McKane said. “Whether peoples’ intentions are good or not, that doesn’t reverse the harm and the consequences of their actions.”
An OU professor was more fair to Rowling, saying that Rowling probably just made assumptions about Native Americans because, being from the UK, she hadn’t run into many before. “Sounds like she’s borrowing from the older traditions of the frontier writers of America to portray the Indians romantically, mystically,” the teacher told the Oklahoman.
The professor seemed unconcerned that she was also making a sweeping generalization about the residents of an entire country.
Concerns or not, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them is a runaway smash hit, grossing $607.5 million at the international box office.