In a moviemaking market dominated by the superhero genre, there’s another major franchise that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon: Harry Potter. J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World has helped to define pop culture since her acclaimed and record breaking novels hit in the 1990’s, and has continued to stay relevant in the decades since.
Aside from multiple amusement parks and Cursed Child plays playing on Broadway and the West End, the magical world of Harry Potter is being expanded through the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise. The prequel series has a five movie plan, with the first sequel arriving in November with The Crimes of Grindelwald. New characters are being introduced, including Zoe Kravtiz’s Leta Lestrange. Kravitz recently explained why she was so thrilled to take the role, saying:
I thought it was really important. And this takes places in the 1920s, so what was it like to be a person of color in this world at this time? She might have been one of the only children of color in Hogwarts at that time. She’s an outcast and whether it’s spoken about or not, I associate that, of course, partly with what she looks like. I think they were mostly only auditioning women of color for this role. I know it was an important thing for Jo. She was very aware of what she was doing.
Aside from the opportunity to join a major franchise and become an even more high profile actress, it seemed that Zoe Kravitz’s venture into the Wizarding World meant something special to her. Playing Leta Lestrange helps to diversify the franchise, and tell a story that directly relates to the muggle world we all live in.
Zoe Kravitz’s comments from her recent interview with LA Times help to flesh out the actress’ intentions with becoming a member of the legendary Lestrange family. But more than that, it also potentially teases the events of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Because aside from her role in the action and main narrative, it seems that Leta’s part will also address issues of race.
The Harry Potter franchise generally likes to keep its secrets, so each movie and play is largely a mystery before it hits theaters. Leta Lestrange has only been seen in a few brief shots of the trailers, and teased to have a romantic relationship with both Newt Scamander and his brother Theseus. But Zoe Kravitz’s role will also shine a light on race issues, including within magical society. Race has never really been a subject in the Wizarding World, so The Crimes of Grindelwald has yet another opportunity to break new ground for J.K. Rowling’s beloved universe.
The Harry Potter books may have become originally popular by encouraging children to read, the story always had dark and complicated themes. J.K. Rowling made complex issues accessible for all ages, including the feelings of being out of place, having a bad family life, and dealing with trauma and loss. And with Rowling continuing to develop the Wizarding World through new works, she can allow it to change with the times and encourage conversation around race.
How Leta Lestrange’s race factors into the plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald remains to be seen, but Zoe Kravitz and J.K Rowling clearly have a very specific intention for the character, including how a black witch in the 1920’s would function in society. It’s doubly fascinating since Leta belongs to the Lestrange family, who is known for being obsessed with its “pure” Wizarding Blood line– and would eventually spawn infamous witches like Bellatrix Lestrange.
This isn’t the first time J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World has related to the muggle world, and addressed issues seen in contemporary society. After the Harry Potter novels were all released and the films franchise was in full affect, Rowling revealed what Albus Dumbledore was actually a gay man. While Dumbledore’s never had a romantic plot line or opportunity to show this aspect of his character, the revelation angered certain fans of Hogwarts, and was a shocker for most.
Both of these issues may end up having a part in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, as Jude Law will be playing a younger version of Albus Dumbledore in the upcoming sequel. While the bulk of the story should be about tracking down and stopping Johnny Depp’s villainous title character, Zoe Kravitz’s statements make it clear that J.K Rowling is putting new types of stories into the still budding franchise. Luckily for Harry Potter fans, they won’t have to wait long before getting answers, as The Crimes of Grindelwald will arrive shortly.
There’s actually been a fair amount of controversy surrounding Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ahead of its release, so the pressure is on for the sequel to really deliver in both quality and box office performance. It began before the film was even filming, as Johnny Depp was cast as the title character, after making a brief appearance in the first film’s third act. But when Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard made allegations of domestic violence, fans took umbrage with his inclusion in the franchise. But J.K. Rowling herself defended the casting decision, so Depp’s role was filmed in its entirety.
When the final trailer for The Crimes of Grindelwald was released, it was revealed that the sequel would include a human version of Nagini, Voldemort’s murderous pet snake and Horocrux. While this offered the opportunity to expand the canon and explain Nagini’s connection to the Dark Lord, some had a problem with Asian actress Claudia Kim playing a servant. But Kim herself has defended her upcoming role as Nagini, and encouraged naysayers to see the movie in its entirety before passing judgement.
Luckily for fans, naysayers, and muggles alike, all of the wondering and questions will soon be coming to an end. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will arrive in theaters on November 16th, 2019, complete with Zoe Kravtiz’s mysterious Leta Lestrange. In the meantime, be sure to check out our 2019 release list to plan your trips to the movies in the New Year.