The Harry Potter series is filled with romantic relationships: Harry’s brief relationship with Cho Chang, the growing relationship between Hermione and Ron, the ultimately tragic relationship between Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks and the unrequited relationship between Snape and Lily to name a few. All of them have one thing in common: they’re all cis-gendered, heterosexual relationships. There wasn’t one explicitly stated queer relationship or character in the entire series. In 2007, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was asked during a question and answer session if Albus Dumbledore had ever been in love. The answer made headlines.
“I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was,” she told an audience at Carnegie Hall. It was a simple statement that meant so much to many, and it was met with cheers from the crowd and excitement from fans in the LGBT+ community who desperately wanted to see themselves represented in the book series they loved.
Not everyone was happy with the news. There were those who felt it tarnished the character and forced an “agenda” on the series. Then there were those who criticized the timing of the announcement. If Dumbledore was gay, why not depict him as such in the series instead of randomly announcing it after it ended?
Representation matters. We say it all the time. Reading about a prominent and powerful gay character would have had a lasting effect on many queer or questioning children. On one hand, better late than never. On the other hand, it feels like too little too late.
With the Fantastic Beasts movies, which serve as a prequel to the Harry Potter series, the issue has been revisited. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will feature a young Dumbledore and Grindelwald. This is a prime opportunity to weave in a love story filled with angst as we watch Dumbledore grapple with fighting the (assumed) love of his life.
While tragic gay love stories are often seen as a cliche, many fans (including me) still wanted to see some confirmation of Dumbledore’s sexuality in this movie. Three of the Harry Potter films were released after the Dumbledore announcement and yet nothing was added to them to reflect the new revelation. The Crimes of Grindelwald could have been the movie to finally do that. But we soon found out how wrong we all were.
When asked about whether or not the film would address Dumbledore’s sexuality, director David Yates said:
“Not explicitly. But I think all the fans are aware of that. He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology and each other.”
I wasn’t aware of that, David.
I guess it was stupid of me to assume that the gay character’s sexuality would be addressed at some point in a movie that involves the man he was in love with. I wanted to see proof of that ‘very intense relationship’ somewhere on the screen. I wanted to not just know they were in love from some off hand comment Rowling made a decade ago; I wanted to see it. Make the subtext, text.
Rowling has a greater stake in these films because she wrote the screenplays for both of them. This is her world and her stories. It was her conscious choice to leave that love story out. To leave out any mention of Dumbledore being gay. So we’re back to the love that dare not speak its name.
Watching all-ages media make strides with queer representation makes it harder to stomach when films deliberately lag behind. Disney Channel’s Andi Mack and Doc McStuffins, Nickelodeon’s The Loud House, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat have all introduced queer characters. Dumbledore is gay. There’s no question about that. What I’m asking is for J.K. Rowling to put action behind her words. It doesn’t have to be as overt as showing them in a physical relationship or Dumbledore wrapped in the 20s version of a pride flag. I would like some kind of acknowledgement of his romantic feelings for Grindelwald though. Best case scenario would be to see something of the queer wizarding world. Hinting that something may be revealed in one of the sequels doesn’t count. It feels like table scraps thrown down to appease an angry fanbase.
This is the second time The Crimes of Grindelwald has come under fire. The first time was a fan petition to replace Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Grindelwald spent the majority of the first film in disguise as a character played by Colin Farrell only to be revealed as Depp at the very end. Many fans balked at the idea of an entire movie starring Depp, who was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife Amanda Heard. J.K. Rowling and David Yates immediately came out to defend the choice of keeping Depp in the film. I can’t help but ask why Yates and Rowling were willing to fight to keep Johnny Depp, an alleged abuser, in the movie but not fight to show the fans who Dumbledore really is?