Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has responded to the outcry over director David Yates’s comment that Albus Dumbledore will not be “explicitly gay” in the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them sequel. And her answer is what we’d expect , considering Rowling’s reply to the backlash over casting alleged domestic abuser Johnny Depp.
Being sent abuse about an interview that didn't involve me, about a screenplay I wrote but which none of the angry people have read, which is part of a five-movie series that's only one instalment in, is obviously tons of fun, but you know what's even *more* fun? pic.twitter.com/Rj6Zr8aKUk— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 31, 2018
Look. No one should be slinging “abuse” at Rowling. But neither should she be so openly dismissive of the criticisms over this disheartening revelation.
Her defenders chiefly cling to two points. The first is that incensed fans are overreacting. Like, what did they expect? A full-on Brokeback Mountain-style sex scene? Because how else would Dumbledore be “explicitly gay?” But that’s exactly the trap Yates’s comment set.
These are PG-13 movies. Sex scenes are out of the question, and literally no one was expecting Dumbledore’s sexuality to be made clear through one. But you know what many were expecting from a Harry Potter prequel that focuses on Dumbledore and the regrettable object of his affections, Grindelwald? We were expecting the couple’s romance to actually be acknowledged, as the romance between Harry and Cho was, or the one between Hermione and Ron, or the one between Jacob Kowalski and Queenie. We expected Dumbledore’s love life would be part of the plot considering this is a story where he’s forced to confront a former flame/ex-lover. We thought a queer character would finally get his due in a franchise that seems to be about standing up for the marginalized, yet is mostly focused on cis-gendered, straight, white people.
The other argument that Yates and Rowling apologists are offering is that Fantastic Beasts 2 is only the second of five proposed movies; so who cares if Dumbledore’s sexual orientation isn’t mentioned here? Can’t we just wait until it probably will be eventually? Uh huh. Well, we’ve waited through 7 books and 9 movies. And all Rowling has offered is a retroactive acknowledgement that Dumbledore was gay. She did that at a time when the books and movies where worldwide sensations, and so risked nothing in doing so. And that’s the problem. She acts like saying that Dumbledore is gay is representation enough, and has shown no interest in showing it where it counts. This is all the more infuriating following a series of movies congratulating themselves for queer representation, when doing the very least to qualify as an “exclusively gay moment.” (Beauty and the Beast, Star Trek Beyond, and Power Rangers.)
Let’s all just agree that you don’t get brownie points for saying a character you wrote or filmed is gay if they’re not actually, you know, gay in any way.— Joanna Robinson (@jowrotethis) January 31, 2018
Rowling has outed herself as an ally in name only. She’s happy to accept back-pats for a comment that allowed LGBTQA+ fans to feel included in a franchise they had long loved. But she won’t actually do anything to actively include them as the franchise moves forward. We’re meant to accept the scraps of “fans are aware of that.” Even as the “that” in Yates’ comment stings, because it suggests that he can’t just say it: Dumbledore is gay.
As M. Arbeiter writes in their insightful Nerdist piece, “Every such remark resounds as an echo of one of the most sinister phrases to fall on queer ears: ‘behind closed doors,’ which is wielded all at once as a prideful display of self-satisfied tolerance and a hard-nosed warning to keep your otherness in the dark where it belongs.” Essentially, by treating Dumbledore’s sexual orientation as an Easter Egg, Rowling and company are shoving him back in the closet.
Beyond that, Rowling’s proud proclamation that she’s muting those who dare to confront her about this is insult to injury. Her plea that we wait and see is callous, ignoring that we have waited, for 21 years. And now many of us are saying, ‘Enough.’ Rowling wants us to buy a ticket to Fantastic Beasts 2 to see if the Harry Potter franchise will at long last start giving more than lip-service to marginalized groups? She better get explicit that she’ll finally deliver.