Happy 4th of July!

Tina & Queenie

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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.

Unlikable

In the past couple of days, I’ve read a lot of reviews and reactions to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Some positive, some negative. But one thing I’ve noticed is a lot of dislike for the character of Tina Goldstein.

“Annoying”. “Unlikable”. “Selfish”. Why do those words sound so familiar? Because they’re used so often to criticize female characters who are complicated and flawed. I’m just waiting for someone to call her “whiney”, and I’m sure someone has. Women who put their own problems before the male hero’s tend to be seen that way.

Why do we judge women for things we find sympathetic in men? Would we like Sirius Black so much if he were a restless, impulsive woman who ran away from a miserable home life and escaped from prison after serving 13 years for a crime she didn’t commit? Would we still see Harry’s parents the same way if Lily was the heroic but flawed former bully and James the kind and selfless one? Would a female Snape be seen as a complex, morally ambiguous hero, or just hated for being “unlikable”? Would a female Credence Barebone be a tragic victim of an awful childhood, or a whiney, selfish girl who hurt people and should have known better than to trust Graves? Somehow, I think we all know the answers.

Tina Goldstein has exactly the sort of internal conflict that people love in male heroes. She is torn between her career ambitions and her determination to do the right thing. Having followed her heart in the past and been punished for it, she tries to impress the people who hold power over her, but soon realizes that she can’t, and that doing so is less important than doing what she knows is right. Should she immediately throw away her own aspirations to help a man she’s just met? No real person, man or woman, would. But goodness knows a female character, especially the hero’s love interest, should have no goals of her own and no role but to further his story.

Usually, the edgy “bad boy” hero falls in love with a good girl, but Newt and Tina are something of the opposite. While they’re both undoubtedly good people, Tina is a bit jaded and cynical, with a good heart that doesn’t show itself until she starts to fall for kind, gentle Newt Scamander. I liked it. But I think having a female love interest be arguably more flawed than the male hero might be hard to take for some people.

Personally, I like my characters with realistic flaws. Newt’s social ineptitude is as endearing to me as his fascination with magical creatures. Hermione’s bossiness and know-it-all attitude are just as important as her intelligence and courage. And Tina Goldstein is more interesting for her selfishness and annoying refusal to be “likable”. I’d rather see compelling, believable female characters than ones that are merely easy to like.

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?

Modesty

Warning: Fantastic Beasts spoilers

One thing I would like to see in the Fantastic Beasts sequels? Newt and Tina adopting Modesty Barebone. I know, you’re probably wondering where that came from, but just hear me out:

After what happened in the first movie, Modesty is now on her own. Somewhere in that obliviated city, she’s waking up with no memory of what just happened, in an empty house, with her mother and Credence nowhere to be found. Maybe she wanders out into the city, looking towards a brighter future but still vulnerable and haunted by everything that’s happened to her. Maybe she wanders right into a familiar face, someone who had been kind to her and her siblings before: Tina Goldstein.

She doesn’t remember, but Tina does. She tried so hard to protect the Barebone children before, so she takes Modesty under her wing, ignoring Rappaport’s Law for what she knows is right. Not just for Modesty: she starts trying to help the other New Salem kids as well, getting the ones in the worst situations out, finding them new families, watching for any signs of young witches or wizards so that she can protect them from what happened to Credence. And if we do see Credence again (I think he’s dead, but it’s hard to say for sure), what would be more heartwarming than for him to find his little sister happy and safe?

But Modesty is still haunted by memories of an abusive mother, and maybe calling someone else “mom” hits a little too close to home for her. So Tina and Queenie become her aunts.

Maybe Modesty, who hid a wand under her bed and threw away Second Salem flyers, turns out to have magic in her after all. Maybe with Aunt Tina and Aunt Queenie’s guidance, she learns to accept it instead of letting it destroy her, and once she’s eleven they send her off to Ilvermorny to learn how to use it. Or maybe she never develops powers of her own, but finds the love and warmth her old family lacked in the magical world.

By the time Newt comes to see Tina again, Modesty is barely recognizable. She skips across the sidewalk, singing an ordinary song instead of a creepy chant, bright-eyed and smiling. She still sometimes has nightmares, still sometimes panics when something reminds her of her old life, but she’s learning to be a kid again. He’s immediately won over. She doesn’t know much about magical creatures, so he decides to teach her, because it’s always better to understand something than to be ignorant and scared. Maybe he even gives her a pet kneazle, Tina having put her foot down when he suggested a niffler. And a few months later, or maybe a few years later, he takes her aside and asks her how she’d feel about having a new uncle.

“Only if it’s you,” she tells him. So Modesty Barebone becomes Modesty Goldstein-Scamander. Just like Harry, she leaves behind a miserable childhood and finds a new family in the wizarding world.

Unlikely, I know, but wouldn’t it be sweet?

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.