As Harry Potter fans puzzle out how (or whether) to continue their fandom in light of J.K. Rowling’s controversial views, Eddie Redmayne both-sides it.
And we’re back talking about J.K. Rowling, the tremendously successful author of the Harry Potter books who has recently found herself embroiled in controversy after she first made a series of transphobic tweets and then doubled down with a lengthy blog post that basically amounts to a manifesto on why she thinks trans people are dangerous, confused and invalid in their identities.
The blowback has been pretty wide-ranging. Fan communities have scrambled to adjust to Rowling’s comments, WB Games felt the need to distance itself from Rowling just as it unveiled a new Harry Potter video game, and prominent LGBTQ have condemned the comments alongside Harry Potter stars like Daniel Radcliffe.
It’s been rough, and it’s ongoing. The latest Harry Potter figure to weigh in is Eddie Redmayne, who stars in Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter spinoff series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is currently two movies into a proposed five-movie run.
Speaking to The Daily Mail, Redmayne decided to take the “both sides are bad” approach, saying that he has “trans friends and colleagues” who are “having their human rights challenged around the world and facing discrimination on a daily basis.” At the same time, he disapproves of the “vitriol” hurled at Rowling on social media, deeming it “absolutely disgusting.” But he qualified that insults against trans people online are “equally disgusting.”
"Similarly, there continues to be a hideous torrent of abuse towards trans people online and out in the world that is devastating."
I’m on board with Redmayne that online abuse is unacceptable no matter who the target is, but I think what this approach misses is that Rowling is more or less insulated from the bad affects of online harassment by her hundreds of millions of dollars, whereas trans people, who are part of a marginalized community, don’t have that to fall back on. It also sidesteps the idea that Rowling’s comments, coming as they do from someone with a ton of influence, directly contribute to an atmosphere where people think it’s okay to come after trans people online and off.
That said, everyone is trying to work through how to deal with Rowling’s new direction, and as someone at the head of her new movie franchise, he’s in a tricky position. The same could be said for a lot of Harry Potter fans, who now have to reconcile loving Rowling’s work with her publicly committing to bigotry. “Fan sites and events like LeakyCon have had to distance ourselves from things that J.K. Rowling and the franchise have done,” said Jackson Bird, a trans Harry Potter fan who once served as communications director for the nonprofit Harry Potter Alliance. Instead, fans are trying to focus on fan-created work, “but the more she keeps on going, the harder it gets.”
Bird made his comments to Yahoo Entertainment, who talked to prominent members of the Harry Potter fan community to get their takes on the situation. “There’s no way I’m leaving the community that I’ve been a part of,” Bird continued. “I will probably go to LeakyCon next year and probably still go to wizard rock shows. Anything that is fan-created, I’m still down with … I don’t want to give any money to the official franchise. I want to re-read the books because I like them and I haven’t read them in a very long time, but I don’t know if I could stomach that for a while and I hope that changes someday.”
But not everyone feels that way. Robyn Jordan, co-founder and chief community officer for Black Girls Create, thinks it’s time to reevaluate the original books. “I’ve read those books over and over again, and as I grew up, I’m constantly seeing new issues with them,” she said. “It’s still an extraordinarily important story, though.”
As for Rowling herself, Jordan is happy to let her “fade into obscurity.”
"She’s proven that she doesn’t deserve to have any cultural influence because she doesn’t understand — or want to understand — culture, people, humanity. With her showing us this, we reserve the right to ignore her."
The organizers of LeakyCon, the world’s biggest Harry Potter convention, are also trying to thread the needle, moving forward with their fandom while making it clear they don’t endorse Rowling’s viewpoints. “Externally, Leaky released a commitment to make our community more inclusive, take action to ensure all are welcome within the fandom, and to ensure it is made clear that we do not agree with J.K. Rowling’s views, and stand firmly with our transgender friends and colleagues,” said Emma Pocock, senior news editor for The Leaky Cauldron. “This was part of a collective action with other leading fan sites and groups. There are so many other groups who have been putting in the work from day one, so our job now is to uplift those voices, and do more to make sure we aren’t actively harming communities of vulnerable people.”
Melissa Anelli, who helps run LeakyCon, is also on board. “LeakyCon is about being a Harry Potter fan and part of the Harry Potter community, not just about celebration of the books; those who have been inside the community for two decades, as we have, know that the community stands against these transphobic stances. We have an opportunity to make a community that is more accepting and model a more inclusive world for this fandom than J.K. Rowling is trying to present, and we’re going to continue to work hard in that aim.”
However, there are some fans who can’t get past this turn. Take Flourish Klink, who co-founded the Harry Potter fanfiction site Fiction Alley and helped organize HPEF Harry Potter conferences. They even named themselves Flourish after Flourish and Blotts Booksellers from Rowling’s novels, but now they’re rethinking things.
“When J.K. started expressing her opinions about trans folks, it became really clear that she would fundamentally disapprove of me as a nonbinary person, and that she holds beliefs that I think are fundamentally dangerous to people like me,” Klink said. “It hurt because when I was a child, I idolized her so much. It’s one thing to write books that kind of imply a regressive worldview, and it’s another thing entirely to speak out so loudly and stridently, you know? Her words felt extremely personal to me. After reading what [Rowling] said, just being around anything Harry Potter-related kinda hurts. Her blog post about trans issues was the moment I knew I had to completely let Harry Potter go.”
"It’s extremely hard to leave Harry Potter behind. It’s hard to express how much it’s shaped my life — I’m 33 now and it’s been with me for two-thirds of my existence. There’s so much of my life that’s intertwined with Harry Potter that it’s difficult to comprehend that I won’t be taking part in any of it anymore. But when I do try to think about it or interact with it, it just makes me sad."
So the fan community is split, but one thing they seem to agree on is that whatever their feelings about J.K. Rowling, none of this is actually going to affect her livelihood, which makes sense: she’s way too rich and powerful to really feel the consequences of her actions unless she wants to. “She can’t destroy her career — she’s J.K. Rowling,” said Bird. “She’s gonna die a billionaire but … she’s digging herself in so deep. It’s kind of wild to watch.”
Jordan agrees. “She makes corporations too much money,” she said. “She is a corporation.”
"I don’t think she will be canceled, and I’m not surprised by it, because I don’t think the people that she’s harming have any power, and that’s just being reinforced. One of the things that I’ve noticed, just as being Black in the fandom, is that people are able to rationalize and accept a lot of things when they don’t affect them … If you’re not a marginalized person, there doesn’t seem to be much of an outrage."
As for the prospect of J.K. Rowling coming around on trans issues, it’s possible…but I dunno how likely it is. Rowling has dug in her heels on the topic, something Strategic Vision PR Group CEO David E. Johnson could serve her well. “Normally not doing a mea culpa in this era would be a death knell for a celebrity like J.K. Rowling with the comments she made,” he said. “But in her case, I think not doing the mea culpa is consistent with her brand identity. If you look at Rowling’s career, she has never been afraid to speak her mind and not back down. At this point, if she were to apologize for her remarks, it would be perceived by many as being insincere or just caving into pressure and going against her brand of telling like it is.”
"Also Rowling seems passionate about what she said and determined to make a stand on it. In many ways, it has helped her because we are constantly talking about her far more than we would have without her remarks."
Johnson opined that standing her ground could help Rowling become a “pop favorite among those who oppose political correctness,” which is probably true, although if that happens I think Rowling will soon find herself cheered by the sort of people she never thought she’d be in league with.
Meanwhile, many of her former fans are drifting away, which Jordan sees as a natural consequence of taking the message of the books to heart. “The funniest thing is that those books … gave a whole generation of people a language of love and acceptance,” she said, “so the people who grew up internalizing those things are the same people who will turn their backs on her because she doesn’t live up to the lessons we read in those books.”