“You’re a wizard, Harry”
It is hard to believe, but it has been 20 years since the world first heard those words. In 2021, we celebrate this milestone anniversary of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” and its premiere in theaters. The movie was the screen adaptation of the first book in the series and was responsible for introducing the Wizarding World to a big part of the public and a lot of the now longtime fans.
And there’s plenty of celebration ahead: HBO Max has announced a special called “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts”, in which the cast and crew will return to talk about the franchise and share stories. The positive acceptance of this announcement only proves how strong the Harry Potter fandom still is.
Ever since the release of Philosopher's Stone - or Sorcerer's Stone, as it was called in the United States - this magical universe has been present in our culture, and now we see it not only in books and films but also in clothing, accessories, theme parks and much more.
The beginning of the magic
For Marina Anderi, 25-year-old social media, and Head of Marketing of Potterish, the biggest website of Harry Potter content in Latin America, the Philosopher's Stone movie was the beginning of her love for the Wizarding World. Now, she can’t even say how many times she watched it. “I was probably around six [when I first saw it], but only read the books when I was 12. It was something enchanting because I read it and then started to search for more information”, she remembers.
Marina explains that this was the moment when she first started to access Potterish, trying to find more information about the next movies. Later on, in 2010, the website opened spots for the translation team and Marina got in. The rest is history: she went through many positions, but never left it.
Since then, the professional helped to expand the site to social media, lived through all the changes that the Harry Potter fandom went through, and saw the movies and the books become the huge cultural phenomenon that they are now.
The first big franchise
Marina believes that the Harry Potter films helped pave the way for several movie sagas that came after: “It was the first big franchise. We had Lord of The Rings that had three movies, but Harry Potter had eight, it was a chronological thing, the actors were growing with the films and one thing was very connected with the other”. She says that the success of this structure made possible that franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe were made in even more ambitious ways.
Not only that, but it also had a huge influence on how the general public saw content that was made for teens and young adults. Not long after Harry Potter, movies like The Chronicles of Narnia, Twilight, and The Hunger Games became huge successes. “It created this idea of ‘let’s make content for teenagers that are not only focused on romance or stuff like that’”, explains Marina.
She also points out the importance of the way female characters were portrayed in the story: “What was Hermione Granger? I mean, this main character at the beginning of the 2000s. There weren’t women like her in the cinemas in action movies. She wasn't the romantic interest of the protagonist, this wasn't her role there. It was a very important figure and nowadays we have plenty of them”. It is easy to remember some of these, such as Annabeth, Katniss, Rey, and Tris.
Harry Potter may have created many cultural legacies, but the biggest are the Hogwarts Houses. It is such common sense that people use it like they are the star signs. When you say you were sorted into Hufflepuff, people automatically assume you have this or that personality trait.
Marina thinks that this is a cool phenomenon, however, at the same time, she has experienced moments when people took it way too seriously, even hating on her for joking about some of them. “Things can’t go over the line of what they are. I think it is something that unites people, of finding a community and people like you, but it can't overstep how you see individuals”, she states.
The ‘Harry Potter’ brand
While 20 years have gone by since Philosopher's Stone premiere and even more since the book was first released, the impact of Harry Potter hasn't diminished - if anything, it has grown. To Marina, one of the reasons for that is the way many products started being made about the Wizarding World. “The first Harry Potter t-shirt that I owned, I had to pay someone to do it. Now, you enter any department store and there will be Harry Potter clothing. It became something cultural”, she explains.
Marina also believes that it became natural for people to buy Harry Potter products without being hardcore fans of it: “If there's someone on the street with a Gryffindor t-shirt, that doesn't mean they are a fan. They probably saw it, thought it looked nice, knew what it was about and that's it”. In case you haven’t seen it, even Timothee Chalamet was spotted wearing Slytherin merch during the Dune press tour.
Furthermore, there is no way to talk about Harry Potter products without mentioning its huge space in the Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Florida. The movies’ features are probably the biggest attractions there, full of scenarios that look exactly like the ones in the films, roller coasters inspired by the universe, simulators that make you feel like you are in the Wizarding World, and, of course, thousands of products that you can buy, such as wands, cloaks, and even food.
“It is the peak of capitalism and it's perfect”, jokes Marina, who has been there two times already. The first time she was around 16 and bought so many things that she can’t even count. “I remember being on the rollercoaster and seeing the park from above, Hogsmead, the castle, and everything and just crying. It was surreal”, she says. The second time, though, she was invited by Universal to go as press with Potterish and the whole experience was a whole lot different.
J.K Rowling: a regression in culture
However, you can’t talk about buying Harry Potter merch without thinking about who the money is going to. While the Wizarding World still has millions of fans around the globe, its creator, author J.K Rowling, has lost the respect of many of them since she was called out for making transphobic statements. Since her comments and even some other controversies, the debate of whether we can put the author and their work apart has been stronger.
It is hard to think of a cultural phenomenon as huge as Harry Potter - that, as we know, has many political messages behind it - having such a controversial writer. “It is so unnecessary to make us [fans] go through this”, claims Marina. “She was the person that I admired the most in life and when this happened it was very hard for me. I owe everything to Harry Potter, even some of my values. But how can I owe my values to it when its author doesn’t follow them?”
Marina also explains that the situation is even harder for Harry Potter influencers, because, even though she doesn’t buy anything anymore, she is still funding it by creating content and encouraging people to consume it. “It is a moral battle every day, but I don't know what to do since it is such an important part of my life. I will keep loving it and the J.K Rowling who wrote Harry Potter is not the same as the one from today”, concludes.