The Dumbledore problem

By Ysabela Golden | 2/15/18 12:00am


As the shrinking group of people who are still deeply invested in "Harry Potter" probably already knows, there’s a new movie written by J.K. Rowling coming out this November called "The Crimes of Grindelwald." Despite being named for an entirely different character, the film will apparently be giving a lot of focus to everyone’s favorite absentminded headmaster, exploring “how Dumbledore becomes Dumbledore.” 

It’s not a particularly surprising development—the "Fantastic Beasts" series is a pretty explicit attempt to cash in on the fading popularity of "Harry Potter" before it stops being profitable to do so, and putting new emphasis on a legacy character as prominent in the books as Dumbledore isn’t making Warner Bros.’ intentions any less obvious.

(Or any less appealing. I’m still definitely watching it when it comes out.)

As is common practice when hyping a movie into a future blockbuster, interviews with the cast and crew have offered tantalizing details about the film’s characters and plot. The most recent and most infamous of these is director David Yates’ statement that despite focusing heavily on Dumbledore’s relationship with the titular character, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" will not explicitly address Dumbledore’s sexuality, which Rowling had revealed after the series ended in a Carnegie Hall speech all the way back in 2007. 

Remembering the reaction of some conservative Christians to "Harry Potter" even without any canonically gay characters, I can understand why Rowling sat on this aspect of Dumbledore’s character until the last books had already sold. As a kid, I had friends who weren’t allowed to read the series because their parents thought it promoted practicing witchcraft. I imagine plenty more might have placed similar prohibitions if Rowling had given Harry an unambiguously gay mentor.

Though Yates and Rowling have both teased that Dumbledore’s sexuality might be explored in later installments of what will apparently be a five-film series, many fans are still annoyed (if not surprised) by the current avoidance of the subject. Citing LGBT erasure and just general wishy-washiness on the part of the film’s creators, there’s a convincing argument that keeping Dumbledore’s sexuality subtext was less of a creative decision and more just pandering to conservative audiences (and countries overseas that still regularly ban movies from theaters for having gay content). 

It’s probably true. There’s not much money in putting any longer than a second’s emphasis on gay characters in family entertainment. Keeping it as obvious subtext has long been the best way to earn brownie points from straight liberal audiences while still not losing too many ticket sales from social conservatives. But there’s another element in this situation that everyone’s arguments seem to be avoiding, and it’s that making a character whose master plan was grooming an orphan for child sacrifice in same-sex love with a blonde magical Hitler analogy isn’t exactly the groundbreaking gay representation many seem to be taking it for. 

Despite Dumbledore’s lifelong attachment to the man in the books, even he eventually realizes his friend is a sadistic serial killer after Grindelwald’s manipulation of his feelings for him lead to the destruction of Dumbledore’s family (and possibly the subjugation of multiple countries). There’s a reason the movie’s called "The Crimes of Grindelwald." It’s hardly the kind of meaningful representation that would warm the hearts of gay audiences. I’m not saying it isn’t an interesting story or that Hollywood should never attempt writing evil gay people (again). But if these films never feature Rowling and Yates waving a rainbow flag over Dumbledore and Grindelwald, well, I can’t say I would see much reason to be disappointed. 

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