Going into Fantastic Beasts, I had very little idea of what to expect from the main characters, as we didn’t know much about them.
Tina, as I had predicted, was the smart, headstrong woman that will eventually become Newt’s love interest. Her arc was rather predictable — even going so far as to be found ‘boring’ by many critics (although personally I don’t mind, as long as we get to enjoy more character development in future films).
But Queenie’s role in the story wasn’t as clear from the trailers, and I admit that I was taken aback when she was introduced to us in an extremely stereotypical fashion — one that we’ve come to expect from Hollywood blockbusters, but not from the Wizarding World: as a half-undressed woman biting her lip, with a soothing voice, viewed entirely through the male gaze.
Despite how much I was enjoying the film until that point, I found myself feeling betrayed. Was this what Warner Brothers was now stooping to? The antithesis of Hermione Granger’s role in the original series and everything J.K. Rowling stands for when it comes to female characters?
But then Queenie left the shadows, and I loved her immediately.
Queenie falls into what, at first glance, seems like a stereotypical role: like women in hundreds of films across time, she is the sex-appeal, the love interest in the main romance, and a provider of emotional wisdom to the main male character. These are easy characteristics to check off on a chart of female character stereotypes, but Queenie somehow manages to be all these things, and still be a refreshing representation of a woman we don’t normally see portrayed so skillfully on film.
To begin with, Queenie never becomes the moral compass of the film, despite being a giver-of-wisdom and being the love interest for Jacob. She could have easily become the motivation for why Jacob remained at Newt’s side and assisted him in collecting the beasts. She could have been a reason for him to fight to remain with his memories intact. But Queenie, as a character, is above these things. Her relationship with Jacob transcends typical Hollywood clichés despite having the Forbidden Love factor, and Manic Pixie Dream Girl undertones. Queenie is genuine, and well-rounded.
She’s also incredibly capable, and not any less strong than Tina, although she readily admits that Tina is the “career girl” out of the two of them; and her Legilimency is a strength, not a weakness. She could have been written in a much grittier way — she could have ‘hated’ her power in an attempt to make the plot darker than it already was. But she remains bubbly and sweet, and yet still manages to be flawed; a bit overly-intrusive, and slightly annoying to her sister. Although her introduction was decidedly male-gaze-y, there don’t seem to be other moments in the movie where she is objectified. To the contrary; you find yourself rooting for her, and can’t help but smile every time she does.
In a world where Strong Female CharacterTM usually means a half-hearted attempt that inevitably veers off into Action Girl or Femme Fatale territory, Queenie’s depiction is refreshing to see on screen. She doesn’t have to be emotionless or tortured in order to show us that she’s strong.
Jacob and Queenie’s relationship is also a delightful change. At no point in the story does she become a source of “man pain,” and Jacob never demonstrates any doubt as to Queenie’s abilities (it’s also worth noting that he never falls into a self-pitying/idealizing role, typical of the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope). The scene at the rooftop, where she gives Jacob the case and nearly leaves him behind to keep him safe, is a subversion of the usual scene we see where the man leaves the woman behind. And it’s all the better because in the end, they decide to stay together throughout the battle.
Queenie is exactly what we needed to see in a major film. When we talk about wanting more representation in movies (although admittedly Fantastic Beasts still has issues with racial representation that we hope are amended in the future), that means representation of all kinds of women. Tina falls into a more common role that we’ve learned to expect: ambitious, impulsive, and somewhat haunted by her past — none of which makes her a bad character. But Queenie is someone we don’t often see on screen, much less as a main character, or as half of the main couple. She’s proof that a woman can be sexy, smart, not necessarily career-driven, and capable — and that none of those things contradict each other.
In the end, when Queenie appears at the bakery — presumably to bring back Jacob’s memories and become the first Witch/No-Maj couple in America, as far as we know — we can really be happy for her. Her relationship with Jacob isn’t one that she can’t live without… it’s something she wants, and that she ultimately goes for, showing us the very qualities that make us love her, although they may not be as flashy as movies have taught us to want them to be: kindness, joy, and quiet determination.
Let’s hope that we see get to see more of her in the next few films.
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