Fantastic Beasts And How To Be Ableist When You Find Them

I don’t ordinarily review movies. And I didn’t think I was going to watch Fantastic Beasts anyway (there were known issues with race, among other things, even before it came out) but I got asked out to it on a date and, well, here we are.

(The rest of this post contains VERY LARGE SPOILERS, including ending spoilers, for “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them”. Also, TW for abuse and murder.)

Much of the plot of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” revolves around an Obscurus, a destructive magical entity created when a magical child is forced to suppress their magic. The child in question turns out to be an intellectually disabled teenager named Credence, who is being abused by his magic-hating caretaker. At the climax of the film, when Credence is betrayed by a wizard who promised to help him, he melts down and the Obscurus is unleashed, causing widespread destruction of property which may inadvertently reveal the presence of witches and wizards to the Muggle world once and for all.

Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein, the film’s heroes, find Credence in a subway tunnel and talk to him, trying to de-escalate the situation. Despite another wizard’s interference, the de-escalation seems to be starting to work. But just then, the American Ministry of Magic rushes in, declares Credence a threat to the secrecy of the wizarding community, and kills him.

When I complained about this on Facebook, several able-bodied people rushed in to reassure me that it’s ok, because Credence isn’t really dead; he will show up in the sequels. But that isn’t really the point.

It should also be noted that the American Ministry of Magic is consistently horrible in multiple ways throughout the film, and that J.K. Rowling very likely does not endorse their actions towards Credence or anyone else. But that also isn’t really the point.

What really bothered me is that the heroes of the movie just kind of shrug and accept this. Probably they find it sad, but they don’t really comment or spend any time on it. They are much more concerned with other matters, like catching Grindewald, trying to figure out if they are each other’s love interests, and being sad for their able-bodied Muggle friend who is going to have to forget that magic exists. Somehow this even goes for Tina, who previously lost her job trying to protect Credence.

When the protagonists of a film are set up as heroic people who boldly defy the status quo, to show such protagonists easily accepting something is to normalize that thing.

Killing disabled, abused minors, because they were inconvenient and their expressions of distress at being abused are too difficult to handle, is not a thing we can afford to normalize. Because it is a thing that is already constantly happening. (If you want to know how often it happens, you can start by looking at the Disability Day of Mourning website. This only covers disabled people killed by their families, not by other caregivers or, as in Credence’s case, by police. You can also look at Lisa Daxer’s Autism Memorial, which is specific to only one disability, but covers a wider variety of causes of death.)

Every time this happens in the news, we are told that, yes, it’s sad, but we have to show compassion for the people who killed them, because caring for disabled people without killing them is just really hard, okay?

We can’t afford to have a media machine the size of J.K. Rowling’s reinforcing this narrative. It’s a narrative that makes it easier for people to literally get killed in real life.

It’s a shame because, as other viewers have pointed out to me, there’s a case to be made that Newt Scamander himself could be an Aspie. He has a single overridingly passionate interest, which he pursues past any boundaries of usual social convention or common sense; he was expelled from school over it. He freely admits he has difficulty making friends; most people find him annoying, and people who got close to him in the past are implied to have taken advantage of his trust and naivety. He avoids eye contact, apparently (though I had to have that pointed out; apparently I avoid eye contact so assiduously that I don’t even notice who else isn’t making it). He’s also kind of sweet and adorable and I like him.

But you can’t paint one disabled group in a flattering light, while saying it’s okay to murder another disabled group, and claim that you are fighting ableism. It doesn’t work that way, ever.

I definitely won’t be watching future films in this series.

(Credit goes to my friend L.B. who had a long conversation with me about this movie which helped both of us clarify our thoughts. Nonwithstanding the above, all opinions in this post are mine, and any errors that crept in are also mine.)

5 Replies to “Fantastic Beasts And How To Be Ableist When You Find Them”

  1. Thank you so much for this!

    I came out of this movie, feeling down, and was unable to understand why.

    I knew that it has something to do with me identifying myself with Credence throughout the movie (we both suffered abuse), and I felt like it was unfair how his death was portrayed… But then I went online and there was nothing about the issue, so I had to assume that the movie was fine. This is the reality of the abused/disabled kids and we have to accept it.

    But this here – is everything that I wanted to hear, that what I saw was terrible, that it was unfair.

    Thank you, you really have no idea how much that helped me.

    1. Kamila, I’m so glad the article was helpful.

      There’s often comparatively less writing about disability / ableism, even in places that are otherwise very social-justice-y. That needs to change. I like to think that I’m doing my part to help change it 🙂

  2. Thanks for this interesting post. I was going to tweet this for my job but now I don’t think I will. Having said that though, I would like to see this movie if it is or will be available with audio descriptions. I have most certainly read about the killing of people who have disabilities, and I’ve heard some news accounts about it. I think it is absolutely shameful and it needs to stop right now. Fortunately I’ve never been abused. I grew up in a loving, supportive family with both parents actively involved in my care. This is still the case, and I have very supportive friends, neighbors and colleagues. So I’m in no way condoning the killing of people. I’m also a big HP fan and am rather surprised at this

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