Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them began life in 2001 as a Comic Relief fundraiser. It was a thin paperback intended to be a copy of Harry’s Hogwarts textbook, complete with scribbled in-joke marginalia supposedly penned by Harry, Ron and Hermione that directly referenced events in the series. The credited author of the book, Newt Scamander, would eventually become the central character of the spin-off film series.
Scamander’s stories are set in Twenties America rather than Nineties Britain, and Rowling immediately came under fire for the racist tropes and flat-out ignorance she displayed in regards to Native American culture and American race politics within her world-building. This was compounded when the first movie of the new series was released and — although it was set in 1920s New York City — the main cast was entirely white. (Though the MACUSA president is a black woman, she isn’t a main character and smacks of tokenism) This flatly disregards demographics of the period.
J. K. Rowling has a history of creating a lily-white, easy-for-conservatives world and then claiming ally-cookies by releasing tidbits of diversity in interviews or on Twitter or Pottermore. Whether she’s delightedly supporting the casting of Noma Dumezweni as the adult Hermione Granger in The Cursed Child or outing Albus Dumbledore as a homosexual gentleman, it’s all outside the text. She gets credit for diversity while never actually writing any — and she apparently plans to continue.
The Fantastic Beasts series is Rowling’s first gig as a screenwriter, and the upcoming second film The Crimes of Grindelwald includes Jude Law as a younger Dumbledore. The titular Grindelwald is, as fans know, the great and terrible love of Albus’ life. Former ‘friends’ divided by ideology and politics, there’s all the trappings of an epic tragic love story…
… and it’s not going to be mentioned in the movie at all. ‘Not explicitly,’ according to director David Yates. This was the perfect opportunity to correct this troubling issue of a lack of representation, even down to casting an actor who has famously played gay characters, but it’s apparently not happening.
There’s been fan outcry (because of course there has). Rowling doesn’t care. But is anyone shocked? Fans had previously come to believe that queer-coded Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were the series’ discreetly gay couple (and many still ship them, regardless), until Rowling killed off Black and immediately wed Lupin to Sirius’ cousin Tonks (who was similarly queer- and non-binary-coded) in one of the most dodgy examples of compulsory heterosexuality in a universe where everyone marries their Hogwarts sweethearts. (Unless hooking up with your Hogwarts sweetheart would be gay.)
Rowling’s been similarly callous about critiques of Johnny Depp’s casting, because apparently having based a series around a little boy who survived abuse doesn’t mean you give a damn about the feelings of real people who’ve endured the same. It’s not just irresponsible, it’s tragic.
As far back as 2013, political scientists had determined that kids who grew up on the Harry Potter books were more open to diversity and tolerant than they might otherwise have been. Early parallels between Voldemort and Dick Cheney have faded to more apt critiques of the Trump administration, invoking not just He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named but also Kellyanne Conway and Rita Skeeter, and the Educational Decrees of Dolores Umbridge. The framework of Hermione’s radical politics and the rebellious youth overthrowing the sins of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations has given us a grounding and empathy from which to critique real world totalitarianism. It’s just sad that so many of us are growing beyond the later material.
We are the core audience for these stories and there’s a deep love for this world that Rowling created — but that can only go so far. If the stories we love don’t grow up with us, we leave them behind. So much for Hogwarts always being there to welcome us home…