If you're either a Directioner, a fan of Harry Styles or, more likely, both, you've probably heard that the new film After, out April 12, originated as fan fiction about the the British boy bander. The film adaptation is hitting theaters about six years after Anna Todd, then a student, started posting a story about a romance between a fictional girl named Tessa Young and Harry Styles on the free fanfiction site Wattpad. The leading male character's name was changed to Hardin Scott when the story and its sequels were published as novels, and so it remains in the After movie. So what does the real Harry Styles think of After? The "Sign of the Times" singer hasn't commented on either the books or the new film, so it seems that he's keeping his distance.
Todd herself hasn't met Harry Styles, though her Instagram confirms that she's seen him perform, and she told the BBC last summer that she wants to meet him and his former bandmates "in an organic way." The author said, "I don't want to make them feel like they have to meet me because I'm a fan girl." In the same interview, Todd explained that she doesn't think that the band has a problem with her fictionalized depiction of Styles, saying, "Sony [who managed One Direction] paid a writer to make the first original fan fiction about the band — I can't imagine they were upset."
While it's unclear if Sony did in fact commission fanfic for One Direction — there's no proof of this easily found online — it's plausible that the band quietly supported the Wattpad story when it came out in 2013. After all, it's a way for fans to connect, share stories, and grow their fandom. Bustle reached out to Sony Music for comment but has not received a response as of publication.
After initially came out chapter by chapter, engrossing readers who have left over six million comments on the work, according to The New York Times. Its popularity led to a book deal for Todd with Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books in 2014, according to Business Insider, and then in 2015, a movie deal with Paramount, per The Hollywood Reporter.
While the story of Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) and Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) is an undeniable hit — Todd has now published five books in the After series — not all fans of Styles and One Direction have completely embraced the story that imagines the pop sensation as an aggressive "bad boy" Tessa meets at college. One offended fan even created a petition at Change.org titled "Do not produce a glamorized fanfiction!," which urged United Talent, who represent the novels, not to go through with adapting them into a movie.
The petition and many other complaints about After don't necessarily all stem from Styles fans' outrage that the story tarnishes the celebrity idol's image, but also due to the context of the story, which many say contributes to rape culture. "[After] was based on a fanfiction that portrayed Harry as a verbally abusive punk," the description of the Change.org petition reads, going on to say that Tessa endures it. But the author told Cosmopolitan that she was trying to reflect the struggles of two people in a formative part of their lives. "It was just sort of a reflection of me. [Tessa] doesn't know who she is," Todd said.
When the The New York Times reached out to One Direction, their representative said that "the band had no comment on the novel." The publication points out that fictional representations of people are protected as free speech, so After is perfectly legal. As W pointed out, the tattoos donned by Fiennes Tiffin's Hardin resemble Styles' nautical tattoos, but that's about where the similarities end.
Because Todd only used Styles as an inspiration in her fanfic, the potentially problematic character is not intended to cloud people's perceptions of the real person, the writer claims. "I love Harry Styles just as much as anyone, and I would never do anything that would hurt his feelings,” Todd told the Times.
As for how Harry Styles really feels about After, fans may never know.