Author J.K. Rowling is receiving massive backlash for her latest comments about Dumbledore and Grindelwald, whom the author has previously said were involved in a romantic relationship with each other, though she has never included any sign of such in the Harry Potter books or movies. On March 14, Rowling told Vanity Fair that, although she was "less interested in the sexual side" of the wizards' connection, she "believe[d] there [wa]s a sexual dimension to this relationship" depicted in Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald. There's just one problem — that sexual dynamic appears nowhere in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, or any Harry Potter media.
Rowling first declared Dumbledore to be gay in 2007, roughly a decade after she published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the UK. The reveal came to light at an event staged in New York City's Carnegie Hall, and related to a moment when, during the filming of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, director David Yates had the idea for Dumbledore to tell Harry an anecdote about the Hogwarts headmaster's old girlfriend. Rowling's retcon made Dumbledore the only known LGBTQIA character in the Harry Potter series, and she confirmed then that the dark wizard Grindelwald, with whom Dumbledore had once been close friends, was his old lover.
Dumbledore's sexuality is never openly discussed in the Harry Potter books, films, or video games. When it was announced in April 2017 that Jude Law would portray Albus Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts 2, Potterheads hoped that his relationship with Grindelwald would finally get the attention it had drawn off-screen. Those hopes were dashed early in 2018, when Yates, who also directed Fantastic Beasts 2, said that their romantic partnership would "not [be] explicitly" stated in the film. Writing just after the film's release in November, Bustle's Angelica Florio said that the characters' "relationship [wa]s so vague, it's an insult to fans."
Many users on Twitter argued that Rowling's latest statements about Dumbledore's sexuality pay empty homage to her LGBTQIA fans. One series of tweets posted by user @lauraw97_ on Sunday began by saying that Rowling's reluctance to show the supposed queerness of her characters on screen was a moneymaking tactic: "jk rowling can log on here and tweet "dumbledore was a dom top" all she likes but the fact remains she actively leaves out any LGBT rep in her books and films so her profit isn’t affected... it’s performative activism that allows her to present herself as progressive while keeping her films ‘family friendly’ for the bigots that would undoubtedly kick off at the presence of a gay character."
This isn't the first time Rowling has mucked up an attempt to diversify the overwhelming white, straight, cis world of Potter. She received backlash from fans after naming Ron and Padma Patil's alternate-timeline son "Panju" in Cursed Child, and giving the supposedly Chinese-British Ravenclaw Cho Chang two Korean surnames instead of a Chinese name. Then there was the time Rowling's Pottermore website bungled an attempt to represent Native Americans in its profile on U.S. wizardry, completely erasing stories from Navajo spiritual and cultural practice by saying that they were lies created "to demonize wizards." Oh, and let's not forget the mishandling of Nagini's cultural profile in the months leading up to Fantastic Beasts 2, when a Korean actress was cast to play a Chinese character who was actually a creature out of Hindu scripture. Or the way Leta Lestrange — one of the most prominent women of color in the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films — became a tragic mulatto in that same film.
Paying lip-service to diversity without representing it in a caring and thoughtful way isn't progressive or revolutionary. It's just a way to bait people into seeing films that don't actually portray what you've promised fans is there.
Mashable reported on Monday that Rowling was not commenting on the backlash to her statements about Dumbledore's sexuality.