The “Fantastic Beasts” franchise is once again mired in controversy, this time because of David Yates’ recent comment that Dumbledore’s sexuality will not be explicitly referenced in the upcoming “The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Fans of “Harry Potter” may remember J.K. Rowling’s 2007 reveal that she had always imagined Dumbledore as gay, and they may also remember the lack of explicit, textual basis for the claim.
This announcement comes less than two months after the discussion around the choice not to replace Johnny Depp in the wake of Amber Heard’s abuse allegations against him. December 2017 saw Warner Bros., Heard and Rowling all address Depp’s casting in the film, as Depp is set to play antagonist Gellert Grindelwald.
Each statement elicited passionate responses, with Warner Bros. saying, “This matter has been jointly addressed by both parties, in a statement in which they said ‘there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.’” Both Yates and Rowling vocalized their support of Depp in the role, as well. Meanwhile, Heard responded by posting the full joint statement issued by her and Depp. Note the line: “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains” in the context of accusations made by Heard.
Two more things of note regarding Depp’s presence in the movie. First, there is no shortage of options to replace him, not to mention the fact that (spoiler) Colin Farrell’s character wound up being Grindelwald in disguise — they could have simply cast Farrell as Grindelwald. Second, more than three months after Heard’s divorce from Depp, the Girlgaze Project posted a video of Heard talking about being a victim of abuse and the importance of speaking up for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Now here we are at the dawn of 2018, finding that the franchise has seemingly endless bad decisions up its sleeve. And here we are, debating LGBTQ+ representation in “Harry Potter” — again.
I am a firm believer in the act of simply declaring a character gay. I do it all the time. Within the “Harry Potter” universe, it’s my unwavering belief that Remus and Sirius dated during the First Wizarding War.
Yet in 2007, all Rowling did was point to a character and said, “That one’s gay.” Saying Dumbledore is gay is great! It’s technically representation! But why not explicitly include it in the novels? Here’s how it could have gone:
“Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes, because I fell in love with him. Gay love, that is. I cannot stress this enough, Harry — I was a young, arrogant, raging homosexual.”
It is not enough to say that an LGBTQ+ character’s sexual orientation does not need to be addressed or mentioned because “gay people just look like … people.” That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how LGBTQ+ people interact with their identity. Dumbledore’s story would not realistically be the same regardless if he was straight or gay. That’s not how it works in a heteronormative, cissexist world.
Dumbledore clearly hated himself for falling for Grindelwald’s charms, but because his sexuality isn’t explicitly addressed, we lose the opportunity to explore how much of this hate stems from the fact that he was specifically blinded by his love for a man. Did Dumbledore have to live with that particularly insidious form of internalized homophobia? We don’t know, because his sexuality has never been addressed in the context of his character.
When Rowling first confirmed Dumbledore was gay, she mentioned it when talking about vetoing a line in the script for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” The line had Dumbledore tell Harry about a childhood crush he’d had on a girl. The script had room for a line about Dumbledore’s attraction as long as that attraction was straight. The line wasn’t changed to “boy”; it was done away with entirely once Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay.
Of course, the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise may very well address Dumbledore’s sexuality in the later films — but why put it off? Such a decision echoes Rian Johnson’s explanation for the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” As Johnson said, “Sexuality, in general, is not something that’s front of mind in any of these movies.”
The approach to LGBTQ+ representation in many mainstream, particularly fan-driven, things seems to be “it’ll happen when it feels natural.” It seems many creators have difficulty imagining LGBTQ+ characters existing naturally.
You can explicitly have LGBTQ+ characters without solely dedicating your story to what it’s like to be LGBTQ+. It is possible.
The inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters is never going to feel natural as long as characters are treated as straight until proven otherwise. The same holds for representation in terms of gender and race in adaptations of books for the screen. There’s a reason Ava DuVernay’s coming adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” is incredibly important — the characters are not all cast as white, challenging the tendency to make whiteness the literary default.
It is 2018 and the new on-screen “Wizarding World” franchise is led by three white men, one of whom was accused of abuse (Johnny Depp) and one who will be playing a gay character whose gayness won’t be explicitly referenced (Jude Law). And while that may not be surprising, it’s still disappointing. After 11 years of barely subtextual LGBTQ+ representation, “Harry Potter” fans deserve better.
Danielle Hilborn covers LGBTQ+ media. Contact her at [email protected].