Harry Potter fans are rejoicing with the release of trailer to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first film of the spin-off trilogy of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world, which takes place long before Harry was born. The new series features Newt Scamander, a character mentioned (off-hand) in the original book series as the writer of Harry’s textbook, which bears the same name as the new film. (Rowling also once published a version of said book). In the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), is a British wizard who comes to America where he has a series of adventures involving a Pandora’s box-like briefcase of magical creatures that break loose, a cult of witch hunters, and perhaps a budding romance with Porpentina, an idealistic young employee of the Magical Congress of the United States of America.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in New York City in 1926, when Jews made up roughly one-fifth of any given NYC borough. So it would be a real shande if Jews made no appearances in this film. Well, it seems the new movie may not disappoint. While the trailer mostly teases—a good chunk of time is spent boasting that Rowling’s fictional wizard world is coming back to the big screen—we do get to meet protagonist Newt Scamander’s love interest, a young witch named Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein. That’s right: Goldstein. It is already an established fact that Tina (played by Katherine Waterston), an employee for the American magical community’s official agency, eventually marries Scamander, and in this film we will also get to meet her mother (French actress Fanny Carbonnel) and sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Harry Potter fans may recognize Tina’s surname from a minor character in the books: Anthony Goldstein, a classmate of Harry Potter, and the only confirmed Jewish wizard in the series until now. Rowling has also confirmed that this is no coincidence: the New York Goldsteins of the 1920s are “distant” relatives of Anthony, whom we meet in the 1990s. Why is this important? It gives us the first official Jewish wizarding family, rather than the possibility that Anthony was born to a family of non-wizards.
In addition, decades after this new movie takes place, Rolf Scamander, Newt’s grandson, marries close Harry Potter friend (and major player in the books) Luna Lovegood. Because of Tina, we now know that that Rolf’s father is very likely matrilineally Jewish. So who knows? Perhaps Luna celebrated Hanukkah this year.
As for other Members of the Tribe, also in this film is Jewish actor Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a non-magic factory worker and aspiring baker. The name “Kowalski” may be Christian Polish, so we’ll see if his dream is to make the perfect hamentashen.
Furthermore, Ron Perlman (also Jewish) plays “Gnarlack,” a gangster who runs a Harlem speakeasy. You’d think all of those details would point to a Jewish character, but Gnarlack is a goblin. Uncomfortable anti-Semitic coding for a type of magical creature that we’ve previously seen in the wizarding world as stingy bankers? Ideally, not, but we’ll have to wait and see.
New York City was one of the most diverse places on earth in the 1920s, and maybe this new film will recognize that with both the inclusion of Jews and other minorities. The full movie is out in November 2016, and Harry Potter fans can desperately cling to every nugget of new information until then.
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