Tag Archives: Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial

It’s a great time to be a fan of J.K. Rowling’s wizard-based adventures (we’ll forget about Casual Vacancy – I haven’t gotten into the Robert Galbraith novels and won’t anytime soon):

We’ve got not only the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child + the script-book accompaniment being released this weekend, but can also look forward to the beginning of a movie trilogy launching this November with the opening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (based on what can barely be considered more than a short story).

And, of course, there’s all the shenanigans happening over on the Pottermore site with marketing ploys disguised as “backstory.”

It’s the last bit that’s keeping me—once a raging Potterhead—decidedly cool to all things Jo.

To recap: Rowling seems to be channeling Lockhart-like ego and real-world dismissiveness when it comes to Indigenous criticisms of her History of Magic in North America writings released as lead ups to the Fantastic Beasts films. While seemingly a staunch liberal supporter of inclusion and diversity, i.e. gay Dumbledore and Black Hermione, Rowling purposefully bulldozes (read: obliviates) very real spiritual and cultural understandings of the Native people she’s appropriating (read: stealing) aspects of her HOMINA stories from. Like the narcissistic Lockhart who’s well-loved the world over for writing books, Rowling’s global legion of rabid fans have harassed and trolled Native critics who (as many were fans of her magical work themselves) only asked that she try harder (or, you know, try at all) to be more sensitive, more creative, and less Euro-centric in her work based across the pond on Turtle Island. Generally known for engaging fans online, Rowling has simply blocked Natives out of sight and out of mind. Celebrity is as celebrity does, eh, Jo?

All that and I’m just… sad. Normally, I’d be napping in anticipation of tonight’s midnight release party, at which my daughter would join me (her first book release party!), as she is just as much a fan as I am. But this all feels like a party we’re not invited to and wouldn’t even want to attend if we were, because of Rowling’s arrogant and entitled stance against Native participation in her world.

So I wrote a poem instead. If you’re so inclined, you can hear me read it on SoundCloud.

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial: "Discovering" and "exploring" Native cultures for personal gain since 2016.

We’ve been here before:

White folks whoring –

I’m sorry, exploring

Brown territories.

Always expanding,

never understanding

our declarations

of Indigenous affirmations.

And like ships led astray across waters of

righteous infestation,

these pale people with their

morally-flexible navigation

wash ashore and

lay claim to our innovations

– lands, bodies, ideas.

Their fear

of being less

manifests

as “It’s mine”

while they evangelize

the gospel according to Harry.

 

We’ve been here before:

White destinies shaped by

brown erasure.

Greener pastures

await

on the other side

of the racial divide.

So we hide our kids, our wives,

our lives

from that white gaze that can’t see

past complexion.

 

We’ve been here before:

This desire for more

looks like lost Italians, found religions, bestsellers.

White quellers

silence Indigenous critique

while appropriating

everything

they never bled for.

White doublespeak

is staying silent

about brown struggles

while promoting racist depictions

as creative fiction.

That’s not applause you hear;

that’s us trying to free ourselves from the chains

of your good intentions.

 

We’ve been here before:

A history of magic in North America –

what we call Turtle Island –

began long before white tyrants

jumped the pond

literally

or literarily.

Colonial folks saw our medicines, our Nature, our matrilineal societies,

our independent democracies

and thought:

“Magic.”

Not unreal. Not unbelievable.

But powerful.

Like a rocket’s red glare

white allies fade into thin air

– disapparate –

when they see our flare,

only to apparate

into our mentions

with tools of oppression:

Guns, nuns, aggression, suppression,

Books.

These the only kind of white magics we can believe in:

Save the wizard; kill the Indian.

J.K. Rowling and the Cursed Colonial: “Discovering” and “exploring” Native cultures for personal gain since 2016. Image text says: “The Cursed Colonizer Killing Indigenous History to Spread the Gospel of Harry.”

We’ve been here before:

A white person gets rich off our images of yore.

Our images of now? Ignored.

You’re a culture

vulture.

That’s the house you’ll be sorted into.

Home of the cursed colonial –

on your door we’ll count coup.

We weren’t here first.

We were here

always.

No wands necessary.

It was your savagery got us into this mess.

You could fix it but there’s no profit in decency.

The true fiction here is that you care.

You don’t. We get that.

Remember: We’ve been here before.

 

But you’ve been here before, too.

#YesAllWhitePeople

Have the privilege of repeating their errors

over and over and over.

But

we see you.

And unlike goblins, giants, and house elves,

we’re real AF

comin attcha with 600 years of receipts.

And we’re ready to eat, so make space at the table.

Take your place at our feet, ready to LISSEN J.K. LISSEN

to OUR stories – OUR truths –

these are not myths

for you to play with.

The magic happens when we represent OURSELVES.

We are not part of your empire.

We are not entertained.

Our cafeteria tables are full.

Make no mistake, this is life and death for us.

And we know what real monsters look like.

RowlingMonster
Monster, Exhibit A

A good review of what’s wrong with Ilvermorny, the North American school for witches and wizards. Below are the four houses of Ilvermorny, whose images and stories are misrepresented and stolen from many a living Native tribe and tradition.

Ilvermorny Houses

Here I leave you with interpretations of the actual creatures as presented by Indigenous artists, past and present.

Horned-Serpent

A Horned Serpent in a Barrier Canyon (Utah) Style pictograph.

wampus

Wampus Cat by Murv Jacob (Cherokee). 

pukwudgie

“Pukwudgie Pipe” carved with only traditional tools made by the artist, Jonathan Perry-Aquinnah (Wampanoag).

 

thunderbird

Doll depicting Thunderbird and stars by Michael McLeod (Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians). 

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Dear J.K. Rowling: Wakanyeja Video Response to History of #MagicinNorthAmerica

When J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America launched last week, many Indigenous fans like me were crushed.

Read my initial response here. Then be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, which has a nice roundup of Indigenous criticisms to Rowling’s phoned-in, bare-minimum, stereotypical depictions of Native wizards.

Since then, I’ve been asked to discuss my views specifically as a fan and Native mother. Check out my interviews with The Humanist, Native America Calling, NowThis and local newspapers.

But the most important interview I’ve done is with my daughter, Mimi. She’s 7 years old (well, 7-in-a-half!) and the light of my life. We tag team the Harry Potter fandom in our house. We’re reading the books together (again – this time around she helps read and instead of the paperbacks, we downloaded all of the illustrated iPad versions) and try to get a least an hour of book time in a few times per week.

Last week she jumped into bed, eagerly awaiting Chapter 10 in The Order of the Phoenix and I gave her the bad news (honestly – I’m too stressed to read HP now, a series that used to function as a comforting safe space to escape to when the real world was too much to mess with #microaggressionsFTW). I read Rowling’s first post to Mimi. After I finished, Mimi said, “What else?” She meant, what else did Rowling write? Where was the rest of it? I said, “That’s it.” Rightfully, Mimi was angry Natives rated just a few short paragraphs when things like snakes, tournament trophies and horcruxes get fully-realized story arcs. I also explained how some people were mad that Rowling was equating medicine people to mythical fantasy (code for medicine people aren’t real) and was taking stories that didn’t belong to her. Mimi: “Like land?” I could only snap.

Mimi is smart. She gets it without me having to lead her to conclusions. I’ve never done more than present her with (basic, age-appropriate) facts. With those, she’s given testimony at legislative hearings regarding mascots, marched in protests, advocated for survivors of domestic violence and has generally let her heart lead her. I can’t take credit for it; aside from giving her the information and space to process ideas and concepts like racism and sexism on her own, I’ve pretty much let her choose her own adventure.

The other day Mimi asked if maybe Rowling “just doesn’t know” about Native Americans and perhaps it would benefit the author and her legions of fans if she (Mimi) threw down some wakanyeja knowledge (I am constantly telling her the importance of speaking up as a young person – wakanyeja is a word often used for child in Lakota, but it literally translates to spirit being). On one hand, this made me even angrier at Rowling: In one of our conversations about this issue, Mimi equated Rowling to Columbus (the land bit), but where she wouldn’t give Columbus or his supporters any kind of excuse, she loves the world of Harry Potter so much she believes the author deserves a chance at redemption. How dare Rowling do this to my kid (I mean, anyone who has been or works with victims of abuse knows cyclical behavior begins with excusing the abuser #SheDidntMeanIt)! But… On the other hand, I was pumped: As someone who often functions in the realm of digital storytelling, you can imagine my elation to hear Mimi wanted to make a video letter to Rowling.

Remember: “IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF COURAGE TO STAND UP TO YOUR ENEMIES, BUT EVEN MORE TO STAND UP TO YOUR FRIENDS.” — Dumbledore (and we’re going to hope JK Rowling is a friend)

The video is 15 minutes long (yikes, I know). And, you guys, this is all ad-libbed. Obviously, we’ve talked about this a few times, but mostly we’re just riffing off each other (and tbh, I nearly cried a few times at the powerful words Mimi spoke). I thought about cutting it down into a digestible 3-minute trailer so more people would watch it, but the uncut, undiluted, stream-of-consciousness discussion that happens is, in a word, magical. It demands to be watched in full.

You can feel Mimi’s anger and frustration at Rowling, witness her obvious passion for her culture (and OMG you can’t imagine how it feels to know she actually retains what her father and I tell her about her heritage!), and recognize the desperation in her voice to simply be heard. Our hope in making this video is that J.K. Rowling will edit/redo her Fantastic Beasts promos and screenwriting. Native people – and fans worldwide – deserve better than what Rowling has offered. Mimi has some truly fantastic ideas on how to incorporate Native characters into magic (historical AND contemporary) and I’m working with some great (and busy) minds to try and recreate Rowling’s HOMINA into something both entertaining and respectful. Yes! It can be done!

But first, Rowling needs to listen. Start here:

 

Magic & Marginalization: Et tu, JK? :(

Let’s establish something off the bat: I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

  • I’ve written research papers;
  • I’ve written blog posts – heck the WordPress title of my blog is Walker Wrackspurt;
  • I collect books (paperback, hardcover, British/English versions, illustrated editions, digital books, audiobooks, coloring books) movie paraphernalia, costuming;
  • My daughter and I have spent the last year working our way through the series (we’re mid-way through Order of the Phoenix);
  • I spent way too much money at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida last year and REGRET NOTHING;
  • My friends and family know Harry Potter is a quirky but important part of my identity – many a HP-themed birthday party has been thrown in my honor;
  • I connect with people on the subject, even those who could care less or haven’t read the books/seen the movies, because it’s such an iconic pop culture topic.

Like most fans, I’m super-jazzed about the upcoming continuations on stage and in theaters.

But with this week’s release of History of Magic in North America, a collection of what will be four episodic essays as a lead-up to the Hollywood version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I’m having a serious crisis of fandom specific to the (mis)representation of Native people in Rowling’s new writings.

Here are some of the problematic passages released March 8:

In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters. However, others were stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.

And:

The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.

The Native American wizarding community was particularly gifted in animal and plant magic, its potions in particular being of a sophistication beyond much that was known in Europe. The most glaring difference between magic practised by Native Americans and the wizards of Europe was the absence of a wand.

OK so I pretty much copied and pasted the whole thing. It’s all problematic. Native women much smarter than me have already written the analytical whys and wherefores – please go read their criticism, as I totally agree with everything they say: Dr. Adrienne Keene on Native Appropriations and Dr. Debbie Reese on American Indians in Children’s Literature both give Rowling a piece of their amazing minds (my girl Johnnie Jae, founder of A Tribe Called Geek, has also been in the Twitter fray). And it being JK Rowling, you can imagine the kind of violent backlash these Indigenous women are receiving from fans who couldn’t care less about Natives or our issues (or our women, obviously).

For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!

We’re marginalized in real life and we’re marginalized in media. To have a powerhouse like Rowling (though any non-Native author really) profit off our continued erasure and harmful representations is something I am totally not here for. The argument that it’s “fiction” is worthless to me. If we (as consumers) had diverse representation of Native people the same way white people do, Rowling’s latest wouldn’t be so problematic, because consumers would have other representations to base opinions off of. As it is, so much of the Native narrative is romanticized and fantastical and now one of the world’s most successful authors has thrown her mighty magical empire against our fragile reemergence from near-total cultural genocide.

And I write this knowing full well I’m also a fan of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, which I’ve written about here. However, unlike Rowling, Meyer’s Native fantasies were expressed at the outset of the series, not as an afterthought (so I had a trigger warning of sorts: bullshit ahead! Not so with the Harry Potter universe).

Beyond this, I’m writing because as a fan, I’m so… hurt and disillusioned to discover a world I escape to so often and with people I love like my young daughter is now an unsafe space that takes the very real cultural histories, practices, and belief systems of a hyper-marginalized group of people and casts them into the realm of myth and fantasy. Ironic, isn’t it, that I’m disillusioned with a fictional world based on magic? As someone who carefully curates the pop culture I promote and allow my child to consume, I can’t in good faith continue to support one of my favorite storytellers. If I want to read a misrepresentation of Native people, I’ll just pick up the nearest K-12 history book.

While I (used to) look forward to reading the series with my daughter at night, I’m not eager to witness the disappointment I’m sure she’ll feel when I tell her the author of Harry Potter has decided Natives don’t deserve dignity or respect and that the values of Native people can be torn apart and packaged as a fictional commodity for profit. And you might think: Well, you can still read Harry Potter and be a fan of that series and boycott FBAWTFT. To that I say, no, I can’t separate the Rowling who wrote the problematic Native prose from the Rowling who wrote HP1-7. It’s like making room for The Wizard of Oz‘s L. Frank Baum, who wrote in support of Native genocide, supporting President Abraham Lincoln (and other ethically questionable leaders), or being OK with American history textbooks because everything except the little bits about Natives and other marginalized groups is accurate.

 

When heroes disappoint, the letdown is very real heartache. Yep. It’s just a book. Got that. But a large chunk of my life has been utterly devoted to the story and characters and I simply can’t help the betrayal I feel. Coming off of her awesome pro “Hermoine as a Black woman” storyline for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was sure Rowling would embrace creativity and leave her white-washed, European-centric version of Native culture out of the canon. Or perhaps she’d develop a wizard character who just happened to be Native. 

As a lover of pop culture, I often have to check my Lakota feminist lenses at the door, or else spend the whole TV show or movie being angry and dissatisfied (I’m thinking of “The Revenant,” right now as a for instance). Sometimes I’m able to get past the ignorance and marginalization. But… Rowling could have done this so much better. SO MUCH BETTER. I’m not willing to give Rowling a pass here.

A Dedication Explanation

Oh, Harry.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? You’ve surely taken up many of my sunny days and starry nights with your reel and written release dates (though, to be fair, there have been several wintry anticipations, as well).

Why such eagerness for a “kid’s” series of books and movies? Why such unwavering loyalty to fantasy fiction when there’s so much reality to be had? Who the fuck cares about this wizard shit, anyway, but weirdoes, wannabes and wearers of aluminum foil helmets?

Right here. –> This Chick <– Me.

I came to the Harry Potter universe kicking and screaming (as I do many things that end up good for me, like vegetables and exercise and shaving). I was NOT one of THOSE people into kid stuff and was waaay too cool for movies that didn’t involve Peter Jackson. I was a sophomore in college and the movie my friends and I wanted to see sold out (I don’t even remember which one) so one of our party suggested “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Bah. Pish-posh. But the theatre in Durango, Colo., which played host to Fort Lewis College, ye olde alma mater, had limited screens, so off to Hogwarts we went, sniggering and sneering like a Malfoy hopped up on weed. The theatre was PACKED with snot-nosed runts and their obliging parents. Few people older than 8 were there by choice. We ended up sitting in separate rows and the lights went dim.

I can’t say it was magic at first sight; in fact, I’m pretty sure I left confused — the story and mythology go deep — but I guarantee I felt a surge of “this is for me” afterwards. As a kid, I was a big fan of movies like “Legend,” “Worst Witch,” and “Labyrinth” (who am I kidding, I’m still a fan!). So I invested a smidgeon of time to ABC Family and caught up on “Sorcerer’s Stone.” It was fine. A sparkly kid’s movie (not unlike a certain vampire series we all love), so I forgot about HP until the third film, “Prisoner of Azkaban” came out in 2004.

Talk about a well-directed film; whereas the first two flicks sought so hard to include the fine little details with candy and glitter, the third film, with its dark edges and fade-to-blacks, proved a film for minds. Helmed by the gloriously capable Alfonso Cuarón, the third HP tale took Harry & Friends to the underworld of life (adolescence) and never looked back. That it had Gary Oldman in the spectacularly gruzzy role of Sirius Black, as well as Alan Rickman picking up the pace as is-he-or-isn’t-he Professor Snape, were total bonuses. I had to have more.

Family, including stoic Lakota grandmother at far right, obligingly donned HP glasses to celebrate my birth. Aww.

Thus began my foray into J.K. Rowling’s napkin epic. I’m glad I saw the first three movies prior to reading, because I probably wouldn’t have finished half of “Sorcerer’s Stone” on my own… Luckily for me, I had five whole books to dig into before Half-Blood Prince came out in 2005, and you betcha I had those bad boys memorized lickity-split. I admit to skimming the first two books; given the age of Harry in Year 1 and 2, I don’t agonize over Rowling’s limited storytelling in those books. They were hooks for millions of kiddy fish to continue reading – brilliant! I did, however, purchase the audiobooks read by the truly fantastic Jim Dale and his many talents. And so I became…

… a Potterhead.

I was addicted. I bought the films, watched the extras, bought used copies of paperbacks, and collected hardcover special editions. Later, an editor and dear friend would ask her sister to buy me the UK versions *sigh* For a different experience, I listened to all the books on CD – seriously, Jim Dale will put a whole new spin on storytelling (and driving back and forth through the Midwest prairie). I wish he could narrate my life.

I went to the midnight release party of “Half-Blood Prince” at Barnes & Noble in Lincoln, Neb., where I worked for the local paper. I didn’t have much of a social life (um, no correlation to being an HP-loving adult), so I felt a little out of place in my Hogwart’s knock-off robes and faux glasses. But I got that damned book and read it through the night, emerging bleary-eyed and Dumbledore-deprived. Waaaahhhh! Being known at work as the Potterhead had its perks – when “Goblet of Fire” came out on film, our movie reviewer, L. Kent Wolgamott, gave me advance screening tickets to help him critique the film from a “fan’s” perspective (whilst he viewed from an outsider’s POV). It wouldn’t surprise anyone to know I framed not only the tickets, but a copy of the reviews, as well. In eight+ years as a journalist I wrote about murders and meteorites and inventions — this is the only piece on a wall. *shrugs* The addiction was solidified.

At the midnight release of “Deathly Hallows.” My costume sucks compared to this guy’s.

There comes a moment in retelling this tale to friends (simplified, of course, to “I love Harry Potter”) where someone always asks: “Yeah, but WHY do you love Harry Potter?” That’s a tough question, since for me the answer is complex and a bit too psychologically-depthed to give in shorthand. The story of an abused but determined boy instantly clicked with me; I generally find myself gravitating toward abused children (hence the social work job), having been one myself. Too weak or broken to defend, but willful and defiant all the same. I see myself in the Dursley cabinet, an unwanted slave.  That Harry was given extraordinary gifts to combat his foes is where I piggyback on the storyline. Who, as a used soul, wouldn’t want a magic wand to swipe away the bad people of our lives? Who doesn’t crave a way out – something better? Of course, I came to the series much later in life than the age Harry begins his journeys, but it was easy – so easy – to place myself alongside him. Besides that, Harry’s worst years are his most formidable – the aforementioned adolescence. A yucky stage in life – changes and growing up and life lessons. A time of blood and hate and abandonment for me; that Harry experiences those and then some made liking the books an easy wagon for me jump on. The Harry Potter Universe promised me stories of teenagers rescuing themselves from adults who sought to control and diminish them. That I couldn’t do the same in my own life made me seek out characters that could.

Blah, blah, blah, and here we are in 2011, waiting first for the final Harry Potter flick (.2) AND the end of the world in 2012 (coincidence?).  It’s been a wild ride; the best part is my 2-year-old can sit through all of HP7.1 (quite honestly a bore of a movie in terms of toddler-esque action)! Midnight tickets are burning a hole in my wallet; costume is safe in a box, wand ready for a new set of Duracells. As a reader, I know the movie’s outcome, but I love not knowing the journey the film will take. While purists will bemoan a director taking liberties with text, I prefer seeing something unknown. New. I loved, for instance, the scene in HP7.1 when Harry takes the hand of a depressed Hermione and together the pair dance as only two friends can in desperate situations. Was it in the book? Nope. It’s a total visual element and one that deepened the friendship of HP and HG, in my eyes. So while I can’t help but peek at all 13,536 trailers released for the upcoming film, I try to close my eyes to keep some of what I see in the early morning hour of July 15 fresh. This is the last of the last. Forget that stupid Pottermore crap. The owls came and went with that train.

The last – FINAL – Harry Potter film is an end of an era, a literal closing of the book. Perhaps thinking of it like that is a catharsis for me, and maybe now with Lord Voldemort out of the way, I, too, can leave my demons in the past and move on to something bright and shiny and new.

My mentee, daughter, and me last Halloween. I’m a little frazzled after just coming from a Thriller performance, hence shirt, pants, and shoes…