Considering issues with 'Wizarding World' franchise — do we really need 'Harry Potter' rebooted?
The mid to late 2000s was defined by any number of pop culture phenomenons, including a burgeoning trend of adapting long-running book series into multimedia franchises.
Although this model is obviously still employed today (see: the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe), the turn of the decade was something of an inflection point in the sorts of films audiences could expect to see at their local theaters.
Moviegoers were turning out in droves to see big-budget Hollywood adaptations of books from series such as "Twilight," "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hunger Games."
But as these series' popularity came and went, I would argue the book-turned-multimedia-franchise that gained the most traction in the pop culture discourse of that time was British author J.K. Rowling's coming-of-age fantasy saga, the "Harry Potter" series.
Although it’s been more than a decade since the release of the main series' cinematic conclusion, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," "The Wizarding World" franchise has attempted to prolong its relevance by continuing to invest in new merchandising opportunities, as well as create new media derivative of the established "Harry Potter" universe.
The reaction to these new ventures has been mixed, to say the least. The "Fantastic Beasts" film series was launched in 2016, aiming to explore the story behind "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a Hogwarts textbook referenced in the original book series.
But the hype for this new franchise quickly petered out, and the saga never fulfilled its promise of five films. With poor reviews and underwhelming box office numbers, it’s not hyperbole to say that the series was an utter failure.
2016 also saw the debut of Jack Thorne’s "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" — a play set 19 years after the events of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" which focuses on the series' titular character's life as the head of the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement, as well as his son Albus Severus Potter’s first year at Hogwarts. The play's script was also released as a book following its premiere.
Although "Cursed Child" was met with almost universal critical acclaim for its enchanting stage effects and faithful dialogue, some fans felt the storyline was cliché and accused Thorne of rehashing plot lines from earlier "Harry Potter" books.
Another point bemoaned by fans was the portrayal of the relationship between Albus and Scorpius Malfoy, which many labeled as "queerbaiting." For the uninitiated, queerbaiting is a term coined by the LGBTQ+ community to label the technique of entertainment producers, including relationships in their media in which the characters are heavily implied to be gay while never outright confirming either’s sexuality.
This, as I’m sure it won’t shock you to hear, is a highly controversial practice. Although some argue it’s a way to include non-heterosexual relationships in places they otherwise wouldn’t be welcomed, many see it as studios wanting to pander to the queer community while not taking any significant position on the ongoing debate surrounding LGBTQ+ people's rights.
In a 2018 interview with The Guardian about the play’s then-upcoming run in Australia, "Cursed Child" director John Tiffany (who identifies as a gay man) responded to the play being accused of queerbaiting by explaining his belief that it "would not be appropriate" for the story to explore the characters' sexualities.
One aspect of this interview which particularly irks me is the way in which Tiffany describes how he views the fan expectations for LGBTQ+ representation. During the interview, the director said, "It is a love story between Scorpius and Albus in lots of ways" before adding, “But that does not mean it's sexual."
Maybe I’m misinterpreting his words, but it just reads to me as a rephrasing of the same poor-faith arguments used by many conservatives to protest the inclusion of non-cisgendered heterosexual relationships in media, as if the mere inclusion of a gay romance is some sort of prerequisite for definite sexually inappropriate content.
It also touches on the idea that underage characters can't be portrayed as gay because there’s something inherently sexual about it when there really isn’t. Falling in love is part of the "coming of age" story, and LGBTQ+ people deserve to be a part of that.
"Cursed Child’s" queerbaiting, of course, isn’t the only LGBTQ+ related controversy to be faced by the "Wizarding World" franchise. The series has cemented something of a checkered reputation with the queer community, specifically with regard to Rowling's stance on transgender identity.
Her views were first made apparent in 2018 when she liked a tweet describing transgender women as "men in dresses." This incident was quickly excused by Rowling's spokesperson by claiming the action was done erroneously.
Still, there have been several documented instances of the author voicing anti-trans rhetoric, including an essay published on her personal website. Part of the essay said that trans-rights activists were "seeking to erode 'woman' as a political and biological class."
I think it’s fair to say that regardless of whether her liking of the initial tweet was done in error, she still very much endorses what it was saying.
Rowling's actions have led to several fans of the "Wizarding World" reconsidering their support for the franchise. Some say supporting the franchise is supporting the hard work of many individuals, more than just Rowling. But many feel hesitant to continue patronizing a series that they feel only further enriches somebody whose views are in such stark contrast with their own.
It’s a complicated situation, to say the least, which clouded the recent announcement of an upcoming TV reboot of the original "Harry Potter" film series for HBO Max.
Although little is currently known about the reboot show, it will reportedly have a "decade-long run," and many speculate that the show will have a more racially diverse cast compared to the original film series.
Time will only tell whether this reboot will be a complete disaster or a success. And every person has to decide for themselves whether they will continue to support Rowling’s work in the wake of her persistent transphobia.
But it’s certain that with the latest failures of the "Harry Potter" franchise and the controversy that surrounds it, this reboot stands on shaky ground.