I used to be a big fan of Harry Potter. I loved the books and the movies, I can’t count how many times I’ve read the books and seen the films. But in the last few years, I have found some of the things J.K Rowling has said about Harry Potter bit problematic.
Over the years since the last book came out, J.K Rowling has been adding things or saying things are canon to the Harry Potter universe that wasn’t… let’s say obviously in the books or the films. I’m sure we’re all aware that Dumbledore is homosexual, Nagini wasn’t just a snake and Voldemort and Bellatrix were having sex and had a daughter together by now. Some might even remember when she said Remus Lupin was a metaphor for stigmatised illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.
Lately, Rowling has received a lot of criticism for adding things as what seems like an afterthought and not having any evidence for them in the books. Especially because of the lack of diversity of the books and films. Rowling has said that Anthony Goldstein was Jewish and that there were other students belonging to different religions were at Hogwarts, that there were LGBTQ+ students, and that Dumbledore was gay. Even though the books were from Harry’s point of view, people have questioned this. Nothing was ever mentioned in the books or the films and there were never ever any clues that would have made us think that this was the case. The casts of the films being predominantly white didn’t exactly help either. It is also worth noting that Kathleen Cauley and Jennifer Smith, the two black actors that played Lavender Brown in the second and third Harry Potter film were replaced by white actor Jessica Cave when it became a speaking role.
When the history of magic in the US and the American school of magic was posted on Pottermore, people weren’t happy. People said that Rowling was appropriating traditions and beliefs of indigenous people in America, using at a prop and twisting it for her own benefit and reading about this I have to agree. Rowling wrote how skinwalkers had a basis in myth in the Harry Potter universe and wrote on Twitter that they didn’t exist in ‘her’ world. Dr Adrienne Keene, who is a scholar in Native American Studies, wrote in response to Rowling “it’s not ‘your’ world. It’s our (real) Native world. And skinwalker stories have context, roots, and reality … You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation.” For the houses at the Ilvermorny magical school, Rowling also used names out of indigenous traditions but it should be noted that the school was established by a white witch from Ireland. If you want to read more on this issue I would recommend Dr Keene’s blog Native Appropriations (this post deal the text on skinwalkers and this post deals with her concerns over the American school of magic).
A few months ago, David Yates, the director of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, came under fire for saying Dumbledore wouldn’t be explicitly gay in the film. Fans were disappointed since they thought they would actually see a queer narrative in Harry Potter, that they would finally see something they have known for years be in the actual films. The thing is that J.K Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay after all the books had been published; it makes it look like an afterthought to add representation as she does. It almost looks like queerbaiting. However, Yates later came out and said that he didn’t say that Dumbledore would not be gay, it would be clear. But hearing for so many years that a character was gay and then hearing that it wouldn’t be explicit is sort of heart-breaking. Especially since the only reason, we know this is because it was said by Rowling and not stated in the books. That was the only proof.
Most recently, there has been controversy over the casting of Nagini in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. When the trailer for the film came out, it was revealed that Nagini as we knew her in the books, had been a witch born with a blood curse that would eventually turn her into a monster, in other words, a Maledictus. Rowling has been keeping this a secret for 20 years apparently. I have to admit, I was quite surprised over this as I, correct me if I’m wrong, can’t remember anything that would point to this in the books. The reason the casting has been controversial is that it is a South Korean actor, Claudia Kim. Some fans think this is problematic, as this would make an Asian woman subservient to a white man in that Nagini is the property of Voldemort and does his bidding. There is also the problem of the scene we see in the trailer where we see Nagini in a cage as an exhibit in a circus in the early 1900s. Here is an article on the topic from The Guardian.
We can question how much actual influence Rowling has over the Harry Potter film and Fantastic Beasts films. We also don’t know the whole story of Nagini as the film has not been released yet and there might be a small chance that the problems above are somewhat resolved. However, I have to admit that what we know so far is problematic. The same go for the issue of Dumbledore being gay.
There is no question that some of J.K. Rowling’s, David Yates and others’ decisions and revelations about the universe of Harry Potter has been problematic at times. As I have gotten older and more aware, it has been harder and harder to ignore. I would love to be able to love Harry Potter and the new films as much as I used to, but I can’t. Not anymore. The lack of representation, the mostly white casting and the apparent appropriation of cultures and beliefs have been too much to even try to overlook. I no longer want to contribute to J.K. Rowling and others involved making money off of it.