One of those times anyway.
I just now had a quick thought and – the benefit of having a platform – I thought I’d share it with you.
The Harry Potter films are usually quite good, I tend to think. Maybe the fact that I literally grew up alongside Harry Potter in my imagination makes me a little biased, but I will stand by my opinion. Even if it is a little biased. They’re good. Generally quite good. Mostly good. They’re all right.
But there’s one scene that stands out as particularly, egregiously bad.
But, as I sometimes tend to, I want to take a step back first and consider the overarching message of the series. It’s kind of hard to pin down, but I usually interpret it as being something along the lines of “racism is bad, don’t be racist.” I don’t think this is a very controversial interpretation.
Voldemort is quite obviously magic Hitler, a point the films underscore by having his followers adopt a mixture of Nazi and KKK iconography, just in case we didn’t get how evil he is.
We also repeatedly get characters the narrative tells us are the ones who Know Their Moral Shit tell us that wizards are being silly for mistreating house elves, centaurs and giants. Now this isn’t completely unproblematic, because what ends up happening is that the mistreated groups are either white people, running into the same pitfalls as the x-men series, or they’re literal sub-humans, like the house-elves.
I don’t know, I feel like the message that racism is bad gets a bit undermined when you cast your misteated race as literal sub-humans, but maybe that’s just me.
But whatever. Rowling’s heart is in the right place. Or something. She’s right that racism IS bad. And the film I’m talking about, The Order of the Pheonix, doesn’t quite try to contradict this message. But it might as well be.
What I’m talking about is the centaurs. In the books, the centaurs are basically way smarter than humans, despite or maybe because the fact that all they seem to do is run around in the woods naked and occasionally look at the stars. I’m being facetiously unfair. But the centaurs, the book keep reminding us, are smart. Super smart.
In the book, the kids use this fact, sort of, to their advantage. They lead Umbridge into the woods, where she proceeds to insult the heck out of a whole herd of Centaurs who then proceed to in return brutally do something to her (something actually pretty awful if this website is to be believed). The point is, in the novels, the brutal treatment is justified because the centaurs are proud creatures and she just insulted their intelligence and Umbridge is also an awful person. Or something. This point is weaker than I thought it would be.
What I’m trying to say is, Rowling really makes an effort to hammer home that Centaurs are beautiful creatures with vast intelligence that deserve to be treated equally. She doesn’t quite pull this off, but like, she tries really hard ok? Stop ruining my childhood, self. Anyway, let’s look at how the film handles the scene where they attack Umbridge. Where again, the point Rowling is trying to make is that Umbridge is being bigoted and insulting the creatures is intelligence.
So how does the film handle this scene?
Yup, the film changes nothing about this scene, except make the centaurs apelike brutes who don’t have speaking parts and only attack Umbridge because “GRRRBLARGH!”.
There is absolutely no hint that they have any type of intelligence, in fact the way they’re depicted calls to mind the evolutionary ancestors of humans.
So, to summarise, the film takes the centaurs, one of the races that Rowling uses to illustrate why we shouldn’t class people as subhumans and turns them into literal subhumans. Somehow, the film manages to take Rowling’s already problematic stance and make it infinitely worse. Good job guys!