The upcoming Potterverse movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about to change our perceptions of Death Eaters. It sounds as unlikely as a year of Hogwarts in which Harry and his friends have a normal school experience with no danger, but it’s true. At the very least, the film will give us more context about where the Potter villains are coming from.
To be clear, Fantastic Beasts will not undo J.K. Rowling’s social commentary about inclusivity and tolerance, and this is by no means an endorsement of Death Eaters. But although Beasts has yet to come out, we already know one crucial piece of information about the way the wizarding world of 1926 New York differs from that of 1990s London. It features Muggles (or No-Maj, as American slang dictates) persecuting wizards, rather than the other way around. That’s right, the wizards are the underdogs this time.
The world of Fantastic Beasts introduces us to a fanatical group who feel uncomfortably similar reverse-Death Eaters: the Second Salemers. That group consists of No-Majs who persecute witches and wizards. They even publish a pamphlet called Witches Live Among Us!, which sounds awfully familiar. Recall Harry’s Deathly Hallows break-in at the Voldemort-controlled Ministry of Magic. In one scene he stumbles upon a group of wizards making a propaganda pamphlet against Muggle-borns:
Harry crept closer, although the workers were so intent on what they were doing that he doubted they would notice a carpet-muffled footstep, and he slid a completed pamphlet from the pile beside a young witch. He examined it beneath the Invisibility Cloak. Its pink cover was emblazoned with a golden title: Mudbloods and the Dangers They Pose to a Peaceful Pure-Blood Society.
Just as we hated the Death Eaters for making those intolerant anti-Muggle-born pamphlets, we will hate these Fantastic Beasts No-Majs for spewing intolerant anti-wizard sentiment. And sure, disliking a group of muggles won’t suddenly make us Death Eater sympathizers. But that’s where their leader comes in.
The Second Salemers are helmed by a woman who sounds nearly as odious as Dolores Umbridge. Mary Lou Barebone, played by Samantha Morton, is a “strict disciplinarian” to her children. Intriguingly, her adopted son Credence (played by Ezra Miller) might be a wizard. That level of mommy issues holds all manner of possibility for Credence to have both Voldemort and Snape parallels.
But unlike Voldemort, who is straight-up evil, and Snape, whose story we only learned after his death, we will see Credence’s struggles with his mother right from the beginning. This will provide a human element for us to sympathize with. If he turns on her, we can’t help but understand — even if that mentality essentially makes him a Death Eater predecessor. And if Credence isn’t enough, there is also Auror Percival Graves, played by Colin Farrell.
Just as we sympathized with Harry and his friends for being the underdogs; just as we felt furious on Hermione’s behalf whenever someone called her a “mudblood,” we will understand Percival Graves’s righteous anger towards this Muggle group. At a Fantastic Beasts global fan event, Farrell made Graves sound like a wizard nationalist. Farrell said about his character, “He feels they haven’t gotten a fair shake of the stick — or wand as the case may be.”
When we see the Second Salemers in action, we won’t blame Percival for his feelings, even though that mentality presumably led to the Death Eaters.
It wouldn’t be sympathy for the devil, it would merely be sympathy towards characters we have gotten to know just as well as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
Nothing is black and white in the Potter universe. Fantastic Beast looks to add some fascinating shades of moral grey, and after the underwhelming Cursed Child, it’s about time the Potterverse got some meaty material. Let’s hope the mischief is managed this time.