The Potterverse Should Know Better

What’s especially galling is that the Potter team is clearly aware of the significance an LGBTQ or POC hero would have for the fanbase. When Rowling revealed during a public appearance that Dumbledore was gay, the response was so enthusiastic that she added, “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.” Similarly, the Potter franchise surprised fans by announcing a black actress as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, again to a largely positive reception. When a handful of fans protested, Rowling pointed out that “white skin was never specified” in Hermione’s description in the novels, and Rowling’s more tolerant fans showered her with praise. Imagine how the franchise’s non-white, non-straight fans would have responded to seeing someone like themselves battling Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts.

But in those cases, the stakes were somewhat lower. By the time Rowling dropped that Dumbledore bombshell, all the books had already been published (with nary a mention of Dumbledore’s sexuality in any of their pages), and the film series was already well underway (with no mention of Dumbledore’s sexuality there, either). There was no real danger that the franchise would alienate fans over that reveal. The casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in Cursed Child was a bit bolder, but most fans will still think of Hermione as white because that’s the way she was portrayed in the movies. We don’t know why the Potterverse makes the decisions that it does, and we don’t claim to. But it seems telling that they’ve proven more willing to embrace inclusivity when the risks are very low.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts Was a Missed Opportunity

One could argue that the core Harry Potter series, which put out books and movies through the 1990s and 2000s, was a product of a time when audiences were less tolerant or less aware, and artists were more oblivious. But Fantastic Beasts doesn’t have that excuse. This was a chance for the Potterverse to start fresh, and build a more diverse cast of characters from the ground up. The architects behind this universe clearly understand that the world has changed, as evidenced by the “gay Dumbledore” and “black Hermione” bombshells mentioned above. They’ve heard the call from fans for better representation. They’ve just decided not to answer.

This is especially disappointing because Fantastic Beasts was in a better position than most films to reject the usual homogenous formula. Perhaps the most common argument against diversity in films is that it’s bad business, based on the (incorrect) assumption that the only movies that sell are about straight white men, and that any other type of character is too big a gamble to even consider. But this was a Harry Potter movie. The question was never if it’d make lots of money, but just how much. Compare Harry Potter to Star Wars, which found itself in a similar situation and decided to spend some of that cultural capital-boosting female and non-white characters in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.

Nor was Fantastic Beasts beholden to any existing canon. Very had been revealed about Newt up until the movie, and characters like Tina, Queenie, Jacob, and Clarence didn’t exist at all before the film. Rowling and her collaborators could have created any kinds of characters they wanted to fill out this blank slate. They chose to go with a bunch of straight white people. And concerns about “historical accuracy” shouldn’t really have had any bearing on Fantastic Beasts, either. First, because Fantastic Beasts is set in a completely made-up past, and two, because it’s already established that this completely made-up past is more racially integrated than ours was. (Again, a black woman was the POTUS equivalent in the 1920s.)

albus dumbledore michael gambon

It’s Not Too Late for Fantastic Beasts to Do Better

The good news here is that there’s still room for Fantastic Beasts to turn things around on this front. For starters, Rowling has hinted that Dumbledore might be openly gay in the sequels, in which he’ll appear as a much younger man. Given that his unrequited love for Grindelwald had a massive impact on his life, there’s potential for lots of drama surrounding Dumbledore’s love life going forward. There’s also the promised introduction of Leta Lestrange, Kravitz’s character. Fantastic Beasts reveals she was a great friend of Newt’s once upon a time, and we already know Kravitz is slated to return for Fantastic Beasts 2 — presumably in the flesh this time, and not just as a photograph.

Exactly how these characters will fit into the narrative, and exactly how big their roles will be, remains to be seen. They could turn out to be minor supporting characters like Picquery in the first Fantastic Beasts, but we can hope they’ll become central players going forward. And, of course, there’s the possibility that future films will bring in fresh faces who haven’t even been hinted at yet. After all, Fantastic Beasts 2 takes Newt to Paris, and Fantastic Beasts 3-5 travels to other spots beyond that. Presumably, we’ll get some exciting new characters to go with these exciting new locales.

There’s no question that the themes of the Potterverse are good ones, strong ones, and especially right now, necessary ones. They teach the virtues of acceptance and tolerance, empathize with the stigmatized and the ostracized, and encourage kindness and bravery in the face of cruelty and hatred. It’s no wonder that in the wake of Trump’s election, millions of fans turned to Potter for guidance, comfort, and inspiration. So now it’s time for the Potterverse to take its message to the next level. It’s time for the Potterverse to ask its audience to walk in the shoes of a black lead, or to root for a queer romance. It’s time for the Potterverse to put into practice what it’s always been preaching.

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