Read More Observations on Jewish Representation in Harry Potter
Just in case you missed my last blog post, I began a discussion about the lack of Jewish representation in the incredibly popular Harry Potter book series. I touched on the lack of overall representation in the series, how every other holiday besides Christmas is excluded and the lack of Jewish characters. However, despite everything I discussed in my last post, I found there was still a lot more to say about Jewish representation, and lack thereof, in this series.
In the Harry Potter books, it’s well known that the Wizarding World’s bank, Gringotts, is run by goblins. J.K. Rowling writes these goblins as greedy, unfriendly, clever and money-hungry. They’re short, but they have long fingers and feet. They possess pointy beards, noses and ears. This description is not unlike the anti-Semitic caricature of Jewish people.
While I highly doubt that Rowling is anti-Semitic and purposely described and depicted these characters in this manner, it gives me an uneasy feeling. The goblins at Gringotts are only too reminiscent of Jews drawn by anti-Semitic cartoonists and the way the world sees us as economy-controlling, greedy animals. I’m finding it hard to tell if Rowling did this on purpose or not for symbolism’s sake, but I wish she had made an effort to include actual Jewish characters as opposed to negative depictions of Jews, intentionally or not.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
In 2016, a new movie in the Harry Potter franchise debuted called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This movie is based off a book that was mentioned a few times throughout the original Harry Potter series, and then written by Rowling as an actual “textbook”. As a fan, I own a copy myself.
While I’ve only seen the Fantastic Beasts movie once, I specifically remember two of the main characters being Jewish. I remember seeing a menorah in their apartment and being so happy about that representation I was close to tears.
Compared to the book series, this is great progress. I don’t want to downgrade the significance of this representation. Characters were shown being casually Jewish without being attributed with negative stereotypes of Jewish people. Unlike the goblins, these women weren’t greedy, money-hungry or unfriendly. They were like every other witch and wizard in the Wizarding World, and that’s what makes them special.
However, in the spirit of criticism where criticism is due, it’s important to note the fact that Rowling heavily implied that the Goldstein sisters are distantly related to Anthony Goldstein, the lone Jew at Hogwarts denoted by Rowling on Twitter:
Well, I think it's widely known that that characters of (Porpen)tina and Queenie are sisters, but not that their surname is Goldstein.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 15, 2015
There’s no harm in having these characters be related to each other, but somehow, it cheapens their representation. There’s no reason why Anthony, a character with no development in seven books and eight movies, has to be related to the women of the Fantastic Beasts films. It adds nothing to any of their characters, and if anything, it seems to represent the idea that not a lot of Jewish people are a part of the Wizarding World. Had Rowling given them different surnames, it could have shown there are indeed several Jewish families in this universe. However, we only have one that we know of for sure, and even what we know about that one is flimsy at best.
Moreover, it would have obviously been better if it didn’t take nineteen years from the first Harry Potter book to the release of this movie to include an actual Jewish character. This isn’t even to mention all of the other identities that aren’t included anywhere in the entire book and movie franchise. Despite what Rowling says on her Twitter account, there are no LGBT+ students at Hogwarts, there’s no one that defies the gender binary in the Wizarding World and there’s no one outside of the Christian faith in the book series alone. Including Jewish characters in the later movies of this franchise deserves a few brownie points, but it doesn’t resolve the lack of representation in the books and films that came before it.
The fact of the matter is that Rowling adding representation into her books on Twitter after the fact doesn’t change anything about the actual books themselves. For example, telling us that Dumbledore is gay or Anthony Goldstein is Jewish doesn’t make Hogwarts any more inclusive to anyone outside of the Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, etc. norm. While the Jewish characters in the Fantastic Beasts films are a step in the right direction, it doesn’t change the fact that people all over the world don’t see themselves represented in this franchise.
Rowling can’t wave a magic wand and fix everything with a Tweet, and neither can anyone else. Other creators can learn from Rowling’s mistakes by making more efforts to include people of different backgrounds in their storytelling. As a creator, if you don’t end up utilizing quality representation in your work, learn to take criticism and own up to your errors instead of trying to change the story on Twitter after the fact.
With a little love for other people and a sprinkle of creativity, we can make this world a better place through art and the power of representation in storytelling. What are you going to create next?