Different Kinds of Strength

It would be hard to find two women more different than the Goldstein sisters from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While Tina is serious, desperate to prove herself, and driven to help others but a bit lacking in self-esteem, Queenie is warm, bubbly, totally sure of herself, and far more than just a pretty face. One is quiet and understated, the other outgoing and flashy; one wears pretty dresses and makeup, the other dull neutral colors; and while both have sharp minds and warm hearts, they show this in very different ways. In this day and age, a lot of movies want to have “Strong Female Characters”, but sometimes I think what gets lost is that there are many different ways for women to be strong. Letting them sometimes save themselves is a good place to start, but it’s only a starting point.

Tina is described in the movie as a “career woman”, and her main motivation is to get her job as an auror back. She’s straightforward and serious, with no time to waste on frivolity. Beneath all that, she has a good heart and cares deeply about doing the right thing. She’s not quite a typical leading lady for a Hollywood movie, not least because her wardrobe and makeup are simple and don’t really make her look “sexy”. The conflict between her shaken self-confidence, determination to impress her superiors, and strong moral compass makes her a complicated character.

Queenie, on the other hand, could easily have come across as a stereotypical “dumb blonde”. However, she’s kind, intelligent, and utterly independent in ways that crush that stereotype into nonexistence. She makes good use of her talents – including legilimency – and is as bold and confident as her sister is uncertain. She doesn’t care one bit what others think of her but uses their preconceptions to her advantage. And she falls in love not with the wealthiest or most handsome man around, but with someone who has a beautiful, earnest mind.

And this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Seraphina Picquery, the female president of MACUSA. Seraphina is not as warm or caring as the Goldstein sisters, but she’s commanding and believable. She acts decisively, and her authority comes across without feeling like she’s trying too much. She portrays yet another version of what it means to be a “strong woman”, this time one who can make the harsh decisions a leader has to without being vilified for it.

The Harry Potter series has always done a good job of portraying well-rounded, distinct female characters who are strong in their own individual ways. One of the biggest flaws of Cursed Child, in my opinion, is that it didn’t give Rose more of a role and instead focused on the two boys alone. However, the new female heroes of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are complex, dynamic, and show the potential to develop even further over the course of the sequels.

Sorting Hat Saturday: Fantastic Beasts

Usually, on Saturdays, I sort characters from other stories into Hogwarts Houses. But today, I’m going to look at the Fantastic Beasts characters instead. Since they come from America rather than Britain, none of the new characters except Newt Scamander have Hogwarts houses. Here are my thoughts on where they’d be sorted if they’d gone to Hogwarts instead of Ilvermorny:

I tried not to give away the biggest plot twist, but Fantastic Beasts spoilers ahead!

Tina Goldstein: Gryffindor. Tina struggles to be brave, but only because trying to play hero has left her scarred in the past. At heart, she’s someone who follows her gut and stands up for what’s right, and she finds that part of herself again over the course of the movie.

Queenie Goldstein: Slytherin. If it’s even possible for a Slytherin to have such a big heart and warm personality – which I think it is. Queenie is quite capable of using what she learns via legilimency to manipulate others, especially to protect her loved ones. She’s skilled at coming up with believable lies and gets the others out of a near-death situation by being cunning rather than by rushing in to fight. The only part I’d hesitate on is ambition, because Tina is the career-minded sister. But like most Slytherins, Queenie will do anything to achieve her goals. It’s just that her goals aren’t power, money, or other things we normally associate with ambition.

Jacob Kowalski: Hufflepuff. Jacob is the most “normal” character in the movie, and his down-to-earth personality is reflected in his goal: to start a bakery and make a living doing something he loves. He quickly becomes loyal to Newt and is eager to see himself as part of the group, reminding Queenie at a key moment that she herself said he was one of them. While Newt – unusually for a Hufflepuff – struggles at dealing with people and gets along better with his magical creatures, Jacob is a natural people person.

Seraphina Picquery: Slytherin. As President of MACUSA, Seraphina is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the International Statute of Secrecy – whether that means standing up to Grindelwald, arresting Newt, or ordering the death of an emotionally broken young man. While the other houses might debate what can be justified “for the greater good”, Slytherins are more pragmatic and tend to believe that the ends justifies the means.

Modesty Barebone: Gryffindor. I’m basing this mostly on the moment when she admits the wand is hers instead of letting Credence take the blame. That’s a very brave thing to do, especially since she’s seen firsthand their mother’s cruelty and hatred of witchcraft.

Credence Barebone: Hufflepuff. Credence was probably the hardest character to sort because his internal conflict overshadows anything else we might see of his character. He’s repressed not only his magic but much of his individuality. However, he is in search of a place to belong and someone to be loyal to, and goes to great lengths to try to conform to the group he’s part of. He is desperate for human connection despite the lack of love in his family, as seen in his relationships with Percival Graves and Modesty. Emotional isolation is hard for almost anyone, but especially for Hufflepuffs, who thrive as part of a group.

Mary Lou Barebone: Gryffindor. As the leader of an anti-witchcraft movement, Mary Lou would no doubt be horrified to know I’d sorted her into a Hogwarts house, but all the more reason to do it. Gryffindors often fight for a cause they believe in, and that’s exactly what Mary Lou is doing, in a very twisted way. Her cause is based in hatred, but she stands up for it as boldly as any Gryffindor. I hesitated to put her there, however, because she’s not just a well-intentioned crusader doing awful things “for the greater good”. Her cruelty towards her children is absolutely horrific and not something that can be justified by her belief that she’s fighting evil. But as seen with Peter Pettigrew, Gryffindors can be capable of evil. Mary Lou is not cunning or ambitious, not loyal or fair, and certainly not intelligent or wise. She fits Gryffindor by far the best out of the four houses.

Grindelwald: Slytherin. Isn’t this obvious?

Contrasting Motives and Where to Find Them

One thing I’ve noticed about Fantastic Beasts is that each of the main quartet is motivated by love, while the rest of the cast is motivated by fear or hatred.

Newt loves his animals and spends the movie trying to protect them. Tina seeks to do what is right and is driven to help those who are vulnerable, while Queenie loves people, especially her sister. And by opening a bakery, Jacob wants to be able to make other people happy doing something that he loves. When they are drawn into the movie’s conflict, it is in defense of the things they hold dear.

In contrast, President Seraphina Picquery is motivated by fear that the magical world will be exposed, Credence Barebone by fear of his own repressed powers, his mother Mary Lou by hatred of magic, and Grindelwald and his supporters by anger at the status quo and disdain for muggles. All three competing factions – MACUSA, Grindelwald, and Second Salem – define themselves by hatred and fear of each other.

While Newt and his friends are of course afraid in dangerous situations, they never allow their fear to control them. They certainly never give themselves over to hate. This contrast between the film’s four heroes and the world that surrounds them emphasizes the fact that in spite of their circumstances, they are constantly trying to do good and acting in defense of the things they love and value.