When J.K. Rowling published History of Magic in North America on Pottermore in March, the beloved Harry Potter author was accused of colonialism and culturally appropriating Native American culture.
So when Ezra Miller, a huge Harry Potter fan and a star of the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, explained to his cast members the difference between a Patronus and a “spirit animal,” things got interesting.
Rowling’s story introduced readers to the first wizards and witches in North America: Native Americans who don’t need wands to conjure spells because they’re skilled in animal and plant magic. The narrative also included medicine men and skin walkers, who, according to some Native beliefs, are people who can transform into animals. In History of Magic in North America, Rowling described them as Native American Animagi, fictional beings of her own creation.
During the lightning-scar round of the cast’s live interview with BuzzFeed News’s Adam B. Vary on Thursday, Miller was asked to choose between Legilimens or Animagus. “Animagus,” he said, as you can see in the video above. “Being able to be turned into your spirit animal and run around is super cool.”
His co-star Katherine Waterston then asked him what his spirit animal is. Miller fumbled a response before saying, “I don’t do that. I don’t identify with a single animal. Maybe a dinosaur or something that is no longer on the earth.”
Fellow Fantastic Beasts cast member, Dan Fogler, then offered: “Mine’s the grey squirrel,” pointing to his hat. “That’s my Patronus. Well, isn’t that the same thing? That’s your spirit animal? Like, don’t you turn into your patronus?”
After a bit of hesitation, Miller finally said: “I don’t want us to get too cavalier with the language here. I mean, it does have a bearing and a reflection. I mean, it’s like, kind of, but that’s sort of an appropriated concept. And it feels, like, a little ambiguous. Like, there’s animal medicine that comes from Native American people and we should really respect that. That’s a very serious thing. And there’s Patronuses, which come from J.K. Rowling, which is also a really serious thing we should respect and not try to appropriate into our culture.”
The audience erupted in applause.