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What Jessica Williams’ FANTASTIC BEASTS 2’s Role Might Mean for American Wizards

The focus of the wizarding world was on New York City this week with the Broadway premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Of course J.K. Rowling was in attendance and ended up making a seemingly minor but important reveal about the next Fantastic Beasts movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald. The author announced what role Jessica Williams, confirmed as part of the film’s cast in October 2017, will be playing in the franchise. And while it hints at much bigger things to come for America’s role in the Fantastic Beasts films, it also raises questions about how much terrible, real world events will be used as a foundation for the story.

We don’t know any other professors at the great American wizarding school Ilvermorny, but we doubt we’d want to take their class more than Professor Eulalie (Lally) Hicks’ course. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like we will see much of Williams in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but that will change dramatically in the third film (remember, they’re making five Fantastic Beasts movies).

Rowling wrote four histories about magic in America before Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the subject that got the most attention from her was the history of Ilvermorny, the famous wizarding school in the United States which is also one of the best in the world. Unlike the other topics she wrote about–Native American wizards, MACUSA and isolationism, and American wandmakers–it even got it’s own gorgeous video. That’s why we expected to see the American Hogwarts in the first film, a story set in New York, and why we were surprised when it was only referenced. It now looks like all of the Ilvermorny backstory will have a payoff though, possibly as early as the third movie.

The question though is, how? The franchise is primarily moving the setting of the next four movies to Europe, where the Dark Wizard Grindelwald wages his campaign to instill himself as a ruler over the entire world, Muggles and No-Majs included. So how will a wizarding school in Massachusetts play into that storyline? The answer might be found in the history of the real world the story is paralleling.

Grindelwald’s rise to power mirrors Hitler’s. Dumbledore and his former friend have their epic duel–the one we are positive Fantastic Beasts is building to–in May of 1945. Grindelwald and his army were defeated the same month as the Nazi regime. That’s why it’s likely there will be other parallels between the rest of the Fantastic Beasts films and World War II.

The American wizarding community lives in self-imposed isolation from No-Majs. Unlike their European counterparts, who befriend and marry Muggles, they want nothing to do with the outside world. And it’s hard not to think of the word “isolationism” when thinking about America’s stance during the early years of WWII, when the United States would not enter the war. That only changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Will Rowling also bring America’s magical community into the fight against Grindelwald in a similar manner? Will it take a tragic attack on American soil for MACUSA to formally engage in the campaign in Europe? Could that mean an attack on Ilvermorny? It would be a prime target, and attacking children would be the type of event to make even the most reluctant wizards willing to fight.

We can only guess what will happen in the story, but while speculating is fun it’s not the most important question to ask. The biggest issue will be how delicately Rowling treats any further WWII parallels. Using an event as tragic as World War II, where millions were slaughtered both on the battlefield and in concentration camps, means you risk marginalizing real suffering if you don’t handle it well. If your fictional story comes across as being insensitive or tone deaf it will be rejected–and rightly so–by audiences.

That might seem like an obvious statement, but it’s a fair concern to raise since Rowling has already been accused by some of being insensitive with her fictional American magical histories. She has been criticized for appropriating Native American culture into her fictional magical world. Agree or not with that reaction, it shows how easy it can be to cross the line from “respectful homage” to “insensitive co-opting.”

The mere idea of something being the “magical Pearl Harbor” would be enough to sabotage the franchise, which is why any other parallels to WWII will have to be handled with the utmost care. Terrible things will happen in the story, just like they did in Harry Potter, but then it wasn’t intimately tied to a real world event. For Fantastic Beasts the key will be making sure any similarities are at most reminiscent of real events, not clearly inspired by or trying to recreate them.

It’s not easy to give Warner Bros. and Rowling the benefit of the doubt on anything going forward though, considering they have not only been comfortable keeping Johnny Depp, who has been accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife, in the role of Grindelwald, they have issued statements and defended their decision while barely explaining why.

It’s possible the rest of the Fantastic Beasts franchise won’t parallel WWII in any other way. Ilvermorny might be totally safe going forward, and American wizards might be brave combatants as soon as Grindelwald’s army poses a threat. This could all be much ado about nothing, but there is reason to be worried.

We just hope when we do see the American Hogwarts we’re transported to a magical place, and not somewhere that makes us feel like the suffering of millions of real, innocent people hasn’t been co-opted for a story.

What do you think though? Are we stressing over nothing? Or is this a real concern you are worried about? Tell us why in the comments below.

Images: Warner Bros.

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