This editorial is a part of a new column at The Young Folks called “Editors Note.” The column aims to discuss topics currently prevalent in Hollywood.
Harry Potter has been, in some capacity, a part of my life for a long time, first due to the films, then the books (I did it backwards at the start). From the fateful day when a beloved friend sat on the swing next to me explaining the entirety of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as I spun around in my chain-linked swing tying itself into knots, I began envisioning a world where witches and wizards and magic were real. The series had captured my heart, and I hadn’t even yet turned a page.
Throughout the years. I, just like a few million others, would anticipate the next book and/or movie with a fervor that I haven’t yet recaptured – there’s nothing quite like your first literary infatuation. However, as time passed, as first the books had their last midnight release and the films ran through their last credit, I grew further into adulthood and, like many others, began to cast the series into a more critical light. I’ll forever be grateful for the story – for Harry, Hermione and Ron for being fearless, heartfelt and wise beyond their years, and giving an anxious girl, then adult a world and sense of camaraderie to funnel all her worries into.
However, there’s no disguising the bait and switch that the series has capitalized on. A series about a mad man trying to extinguish any power, sense of agency or pride from marginalized, less powerful groups and the POC characters can be listed on one hand. And now, following the release of the semi-well received Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes its sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, and it’s already bathed in concern as the creative heads continues to miss the point of the series itself. By diminishing Dumbledore’s sexuality and allowing Johnny Depp to continue to play such a major part in the film with positively no repercussions, the head honchos of Warner Brothers, David Yates and J.K. Rowling herself are going against the message the “Harry Potter” world so defiantly delivered to us; they’re allowing the bullies to win.
Earlier this week, when asked about how Dumbledore’s sexuality would be addressed, if at all, the answer was less than satisfactory, saying:
“Not explicitly…But I think all the fans are aware of that. He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology and each other.”
Of course fans are aware, but we’re sick and tired of subtext. Does everyone else remember the alarming hoopla that surrounded J.K. Rowling’s proclamation of Dumbledore’s sexuality at the end of the stratospherically popular series? Parents were enraged – a book already on the Banned Book list for its “support of witchcraft” now had another notch on its undesirable headboard. The most powerful wizard who had ever lived in the Potter universe was gay. The more progressive fans weren’t annoyed because of the nature of Dumbledore’s sexuality – we’d been hoping for more LGBTQ representation for a long while – but the way in which that message was delivered. It was safe; it happened at a point where any repercussions would be minimal, and it was never explicitly mentioned within the context of the films or books. We didn’t have to question Harry or Hermione’s sexuality because the blocks were there to establish just who they were interested in. With Dumbledore, we were given an afterthought, a notice that may appease some outlier fans. It was bullshit then as much as it is now. For if a series is going to establish itself as LGBTQ-friendly, it needs to be in the effort.
Coded subtext isn’t going to cut it any longer. When readers first dove into the the original series, they were forced to glean identities of these characters. Many perceived Hermione to be black, having never read any actual identification of her race. Remus Lupin could be read as a parable to gay men suffering through the AIDS epidemic. Harry Potter fans have had to dig for representation, and, with a canonically gay character, subtext is no longer the best they can offer. While the theater production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child rectified portions of initial complaints by casting Hermione with a black actress Noma Dumezweni, it came with its own subtextual baggage regarding the sons of Harry and Draco and their baited relationship.
Science fiction and fantasy ideally should work as an answer to problems of today, be them good or bad. It’s always worked with contradictions because they believe that viewers will be able to swallow the notion of space seeking skyscrapers, robots, magic and artificial intelligence before they’re able to grasp a world in which people of all gender, ethnicity, sexuality and race exist.
This isn’t the only series that’s run into this issue as of late. Star Trek Beyond was applauded for presenting Sulu played by John Cho as a gay man, a development that was welcomed but also felt tacked on with how quickly it breezed past us in the script. People have been clamoring for Poe in the new Star Wars series to be gay (and in a relationship with Finn, but lets chalk them up to the never-gonna-happen scenario), and the creators have hemmed and hawed each and every time they’ve been questioned about it.
Studios of big franchises are being cowardly, and by the time they come around to representing the year we live in – nevertheless the magical realms their worlds reside in – it will feel too little too late. People want to see themselves in film and television, and one just has to look to the success of films such as Wonder Woman, Get Out and the buzz around Black Panther to understand as much. “Grindelwald” is just yet another example of studios working backwards, but there’s no understating just how significant it would be to have Dumbledore, this all powerful character that so many grew up with, openly written to be gay.
Perhaps, as Rowling stated on Twitter, we’re jumping to conclusions based on one interview. But with her unfortunate track record of late which includes defending an accused domestic abuser, it seems smarter to lower expectations. Harry Potter and his friends and adventures will always hold a significant place in my heart, and the stories will endure. Yet, to move forward, the creators will need to take a hard look at how they tell those stories, why being inclusive is so integral to their success, and what ramifications they may be facing if once again they’re asking fans to seek subtext for representation, when it should be apparent at surface level.