harry potter

How the New Harry Potter Movie, ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ Can Teach Kids About Anti-Semitism

harry potter

The new Harry Potter film is out–which means nerds like me saw it within its first 24 hours of being in theaters. While the film doesn’t revolve around Harry or his friends, it delves into the fanciful wizarding world–more specifically, highlighting all the wondrous creatures, which is not surprising as it is aptly titled “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

The film is based off the creatures in the fictitious textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” written by Rowling’s character Newt Scamander. Rowling wrote the screenplay for it, and the movie is part of a new five-film franchise with new characters. It’s already earned the box office $75 million in its opening weekend.

It also couldn’t be any more timely because of all the political turmoil in the past year. Why? Well, it echoes a similar climate to what we have faced in the past, and are currently facing now: one that includes anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Basically, it’s all about the fear of difference. What’s a better way to teach your kids about anti-Semitism and racism than taking them to see the film–and having a discussion about it after?

The actual storyline follows Newt Scamander, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, a young wizard who is studying exotic magical creatures in New York City in 1926–the same time the dark wizard Grindelwald is rising to power (sound familiar?). Along the way, he befriends three presumed Jewish characters: Tina and Queenie Goldstein, who work for The Magical Congress of the United States, and Jacob Kowalski, a World War I veteran who wants to open a bakery on the Lower East Side (using recipes passed down by his Jewish bubbe, perhaps?).

Along the way, the team deals with many setbacks, hardships, mysterious forces, and more–and the entire time, the audience is wondering, will they be able to overcome all of that adversity? In particular, the wizarding world is in hiding as a literal witch hunt is happening in New York City–which eerily echoes the Holocaust.

Here are three lessons your kids can learn from the movie:

1. Being different is OK. As with all of her storylines, Rowling emphasizes the beauty of friendship, even in the most unlikely places. For instance, Kowalski isn’t a wizard, and yet, he becomes close friends with Scamander and the Goldstein sisters despite that. Their friendship also illustrates that we’re all essentially the same, even despite some “fundamental” differences.

2. You shouldn’t hide your true self (because it’s going to come out anyway). A powerful dark mass called an “Obscurus” haunts the city–which is really symbolic of societal oppression and racism, and what happens when racism takes hold. As Newt explains, when children born with magical powers hold in (or obscure) their identities, this dark force becomes too powerful to control and thus wrecks havoc. Sound familiar?

3. Standing up to bullies (or racists, anti-Semities, etc.) is crucial for change. If we want to see change happen in this world, then we have to be that change. The characters stand together to fight evil forces, showing that taking personal risks, however hard, is worth it, especially when it comes to people being oppressed–or worse, murdered.

Of course, the film itself also has several historical parallels to the rise of anti-Semitism right before World War II–as JTA point outs here–making it an interesting watch for adults, too. And if darkness isn’t your thing, there are also cute wizarding creatures, like a tricky niffler:

I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, wondering where the storyline where take Newt and the Goldsteins, and wondering what the world of Harry Potter can teach us next.


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Joanna Valente

Joanna Valente is the Editorial Assistant at Kveller. She is the author of Sirs & Madams The Gods Are Dead, and Marys of the Sea (forthcoming), and received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. You can follow her @joannasaid on Twitter, @joannacvalente on Instagram, or email her at joanna@kveller.com.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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