Harry Potter and the J.K Rowling Debate

The most recent Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald trailer has seen J.K Rowling criticised for the revelation that Nagini will be portrayed by South Korean actress Claudia Kim. This echoes her 2007 revelation that Dumbledore is gay, with many arguing that these character-reveals are just Rowling’s way to appear as a more diverse author. Additional frustration comes from the continued involvement of Johnny Depp, who was accused of domestic abuse in 2016 by his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Many people are disappointed by the lack of representation in Harry Potter and have felt let down by the lack of LGBT+ and POC characters in the books; Rowling’s creatures have been often criticised as being crass stereotypes of other minorities. These concerns are valid, but why are Rowling’s attempts to include more representation so widely criticised? Should we be striving to hold her accountable for what many seem as trivial mistakes?

Dumbledore and Nagini:

D: Ten years after the initial release of the first Harry Potter book, Rowling had this to say to a fan: “Dumbledore is gay, actually.” For some, this was ten years too late. I have to agree. In the course of writing Harry Potter, Rowling had plenty of opportunities to present Dumbledore’s sexuality without distracting from the main focus of the story. The events surrounding this reveal raised many eyebrows: it seemed a frantic grasp to keep her LGBTQ+ fans happy and a crass attempt to help sales. Perhaps the sting of the Dumbledore controversy might have faded over time too had it not come to light recently that his sexuality would not feature much (if at all) in the new film, even with his sexuality being so directly tied to Grindlewald himself.

H: Dumbledore’s sexuality is not central to the plot of this film, however it is not hidden either. Director David Yates has stated that Dumbledore’s sexuality will be made ‘clear’ in this film, and that just because this film doesn’t focus on his relationship with Grindlewald, future films in the five-film series will. Additionally, he even stated that there will be a ‘sensual’ scene between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 2. This is similar to her decision not to include his sexuality in the Harry Potter books, since Dumbledore didn’t have a love interest at the time, and it wasn’t central to the story she was telling. Overall, it is clear that Rowling is moving forward in creating more representation in the films.

Furthermore, Nagini’s casting was particularly scrutinised due to the fact that a South Korean woman is portraying Voldemort’s ‘pet’. Many people view this as an act of racism on Rowling’s part, however one should take into consideration that Nagini is Voldemort’s pet, not Rowling’s. Voldemort’s belief that pure-blooded wizards are superior to others has often been compared to Nazi ideology. Therefore, the ideals of Rowling’s most evil and racist character should not be viewed as an accurate representation of her own ideals. If so, Rowling would have made Voldemort the hero of the story, not the villain.

D: While it should be worthwhile noting that Rowling doesn’t share the views of Voldemort, the addition of Nagini’s backstory feels unnecessary and potentially offensive. Her role could have been compelling and tasteful; Rowling had the opportunity to engage in less lazy writing by creating a brand-new character and by not doing so, has perhaps done Kim a disservice.

The Johnny Depp Mess:

D: The most disappointing aspect of the new Fantastic Beasts film is that of Johnny Depp’s continued involvement. Following the 2016 reports of physical assault accusations being made against him, fans and women’s organisations worldwide have vocalised their desire that Depp be recast. Rowling remained tight-lipped about his continued involvement with the film until last year, where she claimed recasting had been discussed with director David Yates, but that ultimately it was decided unnecessary:

“Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”

Depp still being a prominent figure in the movie is hugely baffling and upsetting, begging the question: if video evidence and Amber Heard’s own testimony could not change Rowling’s mind, what would be enough? Her own statement ‘conscience isn’t governable by committee ’ has always really rubbed me the wrong way:  in a time when women are beginning to speak up about abuse in their numbers, it seems utterly tone deaf for Rowling to continue to work with a man with tangible evidence against him.

H:  While we know J.K Rowling has some involvement in casting, we can assume that the director and casting directors made the final call. Although Rowling wrote the story, much like the Potter series, it is likely that her involvement in the actual making of the film is limited. We know from interviews that Rowling received a call from David Yates after casting Dan Fogler as Jacob, which further suggests a limited involvement in casting. Depp has also stated that Rowling has seen evidence that Depp was falsely accused– evidence that was agreed not to be shared with the public- and this appears to be what made her ‘comfortable’ with the casting decision. It is clear that she believes this evidence, whether it’s real or not. It’s hard to believe that she would just disregard the allegations towards Depp lightheartedly.

J.K. Rowling is just as human as the rest of us and burdened with making mistakes as we all are. While it is becoming increasingly hard for some long time fans to stand by Rowling there’s little indication that The Crimes of Grindlewald will suffer financially in its opening weekend at all given that the public is as divided as we both are. At the end of the day, the matter of Rowling’s success lies in the public’s willingness to engage with her and her work. Where do you stand?

By Heather Briglin and Danielle Riddell