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It has been 20 years since “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was released, and on the anniversary of the beloved franchise, it is a difficult milestone to celebrate. The stories are still wonderful and exciting to consume, even magical. The movies are technically strong, with thoughtful direction and special effects that can still wow today. The series also features excellent child acting and is one of the best large-scale book-to-screen adaptations ever. But — and it’s a big but — in recent years the Harry Potter franchise has increasingly been used to perpetrate actual harm to real people.
JK Rowling has been openly transphobic, using her platform to express views that minimize the struggles and journeys that trans people face, saying that she does not believe the discrimination trans people face is real and even tweeting, “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans.” Over the past few years, much of J.K. Rowling’s public persona has been dedicated to attacking trans people. She has posted long blog posts about “reasons to be worried about the new trans activism,” framed trans people as a threat to lesbians (though she is ostensibly straight), and directed followers to a website that sells badges with slogans like “F**k your pronouns” and “Notorious Transphobe.” Views like these, amplified by such a famous celebrity, impact legislation surrounding transgender people’s safety and right to transition in the UK today.
Rowling’s public transphobia has been confusing and heartbreaking for a lot of people who grew up on her books. The “Harry Potter” books and movies were formative for multiple generations — Harry Potter tattoos are so common they’re practically generic, Harry Potter merchandise is almost universally available, and “What’s your Hogwarts house?” is an almost ubiquitously-understood icebreaker.
Sure, the books and movies are technically good, but nostalgia often elevates them above what they are to this weird, untouchable pedestal. “Harry Potter” has been successful for years because of its immersive world building — from an easily understandable housing system, to its “chosen one” narrative, to its characters that invite audience projection — although almost entirely for white viewers.
Indeed, there are many flaws with the work that have been widely expounded. Unfortunately, Rowling’s transphobia is very present in her text. From her description of Umbridge’s large stubby fingers and surprisingly high-pitched voice to her decision to write Neville’s boggart being Snape dressed in women’s clothes as a laugh line, hints of transphobia have always been present in “Harry Potter.” Similarly, Rowling’s depictions of characters beyond the white, English middle-class leave a lot to be desired. A YouTube video compiling every time a person of color speaks in Harry Potter is barely six minutes long. Rowling’s depiction of female characters also favours pitting girls against each other: Hermione, Ginny and Luna are all “not like other girls” as they primarily socialize with boys and distinguish themselves from the other seemingly silly, gossiping and emotional girls at Hogwarts. There is a consistent lack of care throughout the series, and while it is not a cardinal sin for a work to be less than completely inclusive and diverse, it is unfair that a work that is so thoroughly lacking in this department is so often heralded as so “perfect.”
Again, some of Rowling’s hateful views can be hard to reconcile with a story that has meant a lot to so many people. But it is necessary to be aware of the deep flaws in the art that many of us consumed during our formative years. It is even more important to stop giving this woman money and power to spread hate.
Ultimately, these criticisms largely address the books and Rowling’s behavior as a celebrity since — but what about the films? Daniel Radcliffe, for example, has been outspoken in support of trans rights. In this way, the majority of the cast and crew likely do not share Rowling’s hateful views, but they are also unlikely to still be earning money from the movies made from her stories while Rowling definitely is.
If you want to enjoy the DVDs you already own or stream the films when they inevitably go on Disney Plus, that’s a personal choice. But Harry Potter will now forever be linked with its creator’s transphobia, along with the sexist undertones and erasure of people of color that preceded Rowling’s Twitter rants. In other words — we could have seen this coming.
— Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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