Caring for Animals, Caring for People: Thoughts on ‘Fantastic Beasts’

fantastic_beasts_wallpapershome-comThe Harry Potter novels set themselves against racial supremacy (Magic is Might) and discrimination (Muggle-Born Registry), a theme that carries over into the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Whatever its flaws as a film (quite a few did not like it), Fantastic Beasts is essentially a reflection and lesson on how we should treat the Other:  represented in the film by cute magical creatures in Newt Scamander’s suitcase.

Though strange, exotic, and different, Newt Scamander treats them with love and respect. The film takes great pains to show us the animals almost one by one. With the help of the musical score, we are made to wonder at these creature, admire their beauty, and care for them the way Newt does.

This attitude extends to his fellow human beings. Unlike his rather more right-wing magical brethren, Newt does not advocate the extermination of the Obscurus, despite the devastation it has wrought. Instead of shooting first and asking questions later, he sees him less as a creature to be killed than as a person to be helped. Newt is indeed a caretaker.

Fantastic Beasts is as much about entertainment as ethics. In recent years, I have found it fruitful to see ethics not so much as about right and wrong, but as a matter of how we deal with strangers: people from other races, ethnicities, countries, regions, and neighborhoods. People who are or (seem) different from us. And in the film, it’s people with(out) magic.

Strangers can be hazardous (Stranger Danger!), but we can’t always let our sometimes justified suspicion thereof get the better of our humanity. Ethics provides us with reasons, principles, and guidance to help, understand, empathize, reach out, welcome, and create bonds with strangers, with people who are or seem different from us.

Fantastic Beasts has much to teach us, not least our policy makers on immigration in this age of globalization, and amidst a resurgence of hateful ideologies. One lesson of Fantastic Beasts is that when you fear, regulate, control, isolate, and turn away strangers — in this case, people with magic — you create a violent backlash, not least in the form of an Obscurus that can wreak so much havoc. We risk as much by keeping migrants out. By discriminating against them and protecting ourselves through certain immigration policies, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy: bringing about the very things we feared in the first place.

Of course, immigration policy is not as easy and straightforward. But Newt has much to teach us in this respect. The Obscurus was indeed dangerous, but that didn’t stop him from refusing to help. And he was still careful to do so.

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