Why the Villain Reveal in FANTASTIC BEASTS is so Troubling

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Last night, I went to the cinema with my mum to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And we loved it. The creatures were amazing, Newt was the sweetest darling (look at his tiny hopeful face!), and the visual effects were just stunning.

The eagle thing swooping, everyone crying over Jacob, wand umbrellas, the teapot dragon, the mole-platypus (ooh, this one’s a Niffler). Not to mention Queenie being the greatest, the literal giant ball of rage, a TON of apparating because this lot are grown-up wizards who can, and the CASE. Holy heaven, steal my beating heart, Newt’s CASE.

Also, I love you, Eddie Redmayne, but you are one heck of a mumbler on the important words. If someone could link me to some kind of guide to the magical creatures which appeared in the film, I would be ETERNALLY grateful.

But now, I want to talk about the ending, more specifically the villain reveal, because I came away with a lot of feelings about it and most of them were icky.

There will be major spoilers from here on in. I mean it. Stop reading now. If I’d known this before going into the cinema, it might have ruined the whole film for me, so you have been WARNED.

Seriously. Stop reading if you haven’t already seen the film.

I mean it. 

Last chance.

Steph, I’m talking to you. CLOSE THE WINDOW.

Ready?

OK. So, Graves turns out to have been Grindelwald all along, which my mum apparently saw coming but which I did not AT ALL (I was very distracted by Colin Farrell’s face, I will admit).

And Grindelwald is, all of a sudden, being played by a baby-mohawked half-albino Johnny Depp. Which, what???

For very shallow reasons why I dislike this, please see the picture below of the guy who was Grindelwald in a flashback scene in the original HP movies:

Grindelwals.jpg

We could have had someone who actually is young and charismatic and charming, and instead we got Johnny Depp, who we just have to admit is none of those things any more, and move on.

For very entangled reasons why I hate this intensely, please read on. I’m going to start with a tiny run-down of all the players involved, and then do my best to explain why they all interconnect into a huge steaming pile of ick. Also, trigger warnings for domestic abuse, child abuse, and homophobic coding.

Grindelwald: Gay, according to JK but not in canon, so take that how you choose. Also I seem to remember that he was a skilled speaker and distinctly charming charismatic, but it’s been years since I read the books so feel free to correct me with quotes if I’m wrong.

Graves: According to my mum, she knew he was the big bad because he had a pantomime villain coat: “All pantomime baddies have the best coats”. I’d read that as flamboyant which means even though Colin Farrell didn’t act in a stereotypically ‘camp’ way, I would read it that someone decided he should have a coat that swooshed in that direction. There are arguably paedophilic undertones to Graves’ relationship with Credence – again, nothing explicit, but lots of soft touching/leaning in close/giving him jewellery (however plot-relevant that jewellery turns out to be).

Credence: A victim of parental bereavement and domestic abuse.

Johnny Depp: Divorced Amber Heard this year after she claimed, with evidence and witnesses, that he was guilty of domestic abuse.

First of all, I’m going to disregard the fact that ‘Grindelwald’ was played by Colin Farrell throughout almost the entire film – it’s revealed at the end that it was Johnny Depp’s character all along, and as I suspect this will be relevant in future films, s0 I’m going to connect all of those actions and activities to a character represented by Johnny Depp, who just wore Colin Farrell’s face for a while. (Ew.) I’m also going to credit the film crew and cast as a whole for what I’m going to say next, rather than one actor in particular, as I think more went into this cesspit than acting choices. I’m not blaming them for deliberately instigating this stuff, but when all the pieces come together it’s there.

For Johnny Depp, a perpetrator of domestic abuse, to play a character who manipulates and exploits a child victim of domestic abuse (Credence), is just too close to reality. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and I’m sure it will make many people feel much more than uncomfortable. I’m sure that that was not the film-maker’s intention – I’d assume from filmic timelines that filming was more or less wrapped up when the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard story broke – but it’s there, and it needs addressing. Especially if, as I suspect, Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald will appear in the next four films.

But then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s compounded, in my interpretation at least, by the subtle but sinister homophobia that surrounds this character. I’d be interested to know if anyone else sees this, and, again, I do doubt that it was intentional on the part of the film-makers, but nonetheless I think the connection is there.

Grindelwald is, by JK-canon if not by book-canon, gay – or at least, has a relationship with another man. Given that Johnny Depp is 53, I’d assume that this relationship has already happened (was Grindelwald much older than Dumbledore? If this is set in the 1920s, doesn’t a Grindelwald in his 50s mess up the timeline? ANYWAY). So to imply an element of paedophilia in Graves/Grindelwald’s interactions with Credence is horrifically insensitive and ignorant of LGBT+ history, and frankly, I’d expect better by now. I do think this is something where you need to have seen the film to agree or disagree with, but it’s something I can’t unsee now that I see it there – as I said, I’d be interested to see other’s opinions on this.

Top that with the – albeit, at this point, relatively minor – point about Graves’ costume nodding to effeminacy (though I don’t think that he does as an actor or a character), and you’ve got yourself a perfect concoction of homophobic coding in a character who’s about to (again, I assume) lead as the villain in four major blockbusters. I don’t think that any of this was intended to be put together by the audience in this way, but I do think that it’s a lazy use of the codes usually used to indicate a villain, and I want better. And obviously, when you use feminine coding to indicate a villain, there’s a whole bunch of misogynistic garbage in there too.

I also suspect that Johnny Depp, being, you know, Johnny Depp, is going to amp up the feminine coding going forward. He used to be unpredictable, but now I feel like he’s circled so far around that he’s landed right back at predictable, and I’m excited to see him in the next one least of all.

I really did love this movie, apart from the, what, thirty seconds with Depp in? I loved being back in the world of Harry Potter, and seeing all those wonderful creatures come to life in such individual ways. I loved, loved, loved the fact that Tina didn’t have to have a dramatic makeover to attract Newt’s attention – he already knew how great she was. But, having spent the entire day beforehand listening to the Witch, Please podcast, I feel like I was that much more aware of coding in the film, particularly with regard to femininity/homosexuality in the villains (e.g. Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy).

Am I overthinking this? I would love to know your thoughts, even – and especially – if you disagree with me. Or do you think there was more in there that I didn’t pick up? Please do let me know, in comments or on Twitter @rustlingreads.

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