Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them kicks off a franchise which takes place several decades before the events of the original Harry Potter films. This time around, the adventure occurs in New York City. British protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) naturally experiences a bit of culture shock when he travels to America, and he won’t be the only one. Even if you’re a diehard Harry Potter fan, several details of the film will make you feel like you’ve been hit with a Confundus Charm. But not to worry, we’ve pulled a Hermione and done the homework for you.
Just as British and American slang has differences in the real world, the Wizarding world is the same. On a small scale level, the Brits call non-magical people Muggles while Americans prefer the term “No-Maj.” Eagle-eyed viewers will also note that in the movie’s opening montage of newspaper headlines, one reads, “Is soccer the No-Maj Quidditch?”
On a larger scale, there’s one scene in the film when sisters Queenie and Tina Goldstein refer to the American school Ilvermorny as the “best school ever,” while Newt’s Hogwarts is “hogwash” to them. This is clearly wrong, but everyone is allowed their eccentricities.
In the British Wizarding world, Pure-blood wizards look down upon relationships with Muggle-borns, but they still happen. Sirius Black’s cousin, and Tonks’s mother, Andromeda was blasted off the family tree just for running away with one. Nevertheless, that was merely the view of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black — it wasn’t the law. Harry’s classmate and Ginny Weasley’s one-time boyfriend Dean Thomas has one Muggle parent. But 1926 Wizarding New York has a strict segregation — wizards marrying non-wizards is actually against their laws.
Thanks to Harry’s penchant for trouble, we are well acquainted with Britain’s Ministry of Magic. We’ve seen both its visitor entrance (a phone booth) and its regular entrance (toilets). We’ve seen its murkier departments, like the Department of Mysteries, and we’ve seen the Wizengamot assemble for trial.
America has the MACUSA — the Magical Congress of the United States of America — and a President rather than a Minister for Magic. Her hat game is far superior to Fudge’s bowler hat. Nevertheless, just as Fudge perpetually uses the foolish Dawlish, the American president also has Aurors under her command like Percival Graves.
MACUSA has a more conventional entrance than the Ministry, but it also contains a cavernous space where a governing body meets. Its approach to punishment, however, is markedly different, which leads us to the American wizarding justice system.
In the Wizarding world of Britain, if you’ve been accused of a crime, you get a trial. The only notable exception is Sirius Black, who, after being framed for murder, was sent to the prison Azkaban immediately with no trial. In Goblet of Fire, when Harry falls into the Pensieve, we see the justice system at work when Barty Crouch sentences his own son and Bellatrix Lestrange to Azkaban.
It’s a grim scene, but it’s still a trial. According to Fantastic Beasts, MACUSA seems happy to send someone behind bars with no trial whatsoever.
5. Capital Punishment
In Wizarding Britain, if you are sentenced to death, you receive a Dementor’s Kiss, a horrifying ordeal in which your soul is sucked out. You aren’t truly dead, but you become a shell. We see this at the end of in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry saves Sirius from a Kiss right in the nick of time.
Intriguingly, Dementors are either not native to America or not legal in MACUSA’s system, because their method of capital punishment is markedly different. To explain exactly how would be to spoil, but keep constant vigilance as you watch Fantastic Beasts.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits theaters November 18.