Rowling is appeasing fans by shoehorning diversity into HP
Good morning bookworms!
I thought that I would bring you all another sunshine and rainbows discussion post this month since the last one was so well received! If you haven’t read last month’s instalment, and are looking for a fun post as bright and happy as bunnies, probably don’t click this link: Main character deaths are necessary.
This month, I thought that I would destroy all the remaining hopes and dreams from your childhood, and talk about why I think J. K. Rowling is trying to appease fans by including diversity as an afterthought in the Harry Potter novels. Please remember that all opinions are MINE, and you are completely free to disagree with them. In fact, I welcome it! Shout at me in the comments (but constructively – there’s no need to be rude about it).
Books are one of the few media formats that have the ability to normalise and discuss topics that were taboo, and I feel like, as this was one of the most influential series of our times, the topic has been trivialised by Rowling in her incessant need to add details about the lives of the Harry Potter characters up to a decade after the final books were released.
Admittedly, Rowling started writing this series when she was a single mother living on welfare payments and had no idea the impact she would have on the world. However, she also signed a movie deal in 1998 after only publishing two books, so she would have known that these books were going to be moderately successful. Herein lies an opportune time to include more diverse representation.
Now, I’m not saying to add diversity for diversity’s sake. This can sometimes do more harm than good, particularly if the diversity is not genuine. But, if you are questioned about your characters the year after the final book is released, and you happen to have a main character who didn’t show any romantic intentions towards anyone in six books – that’s not your opportunity to go “Oh, yeah he’s totally gay. Soz, didn’t you know?”
Rowling, to my knowledge, has not written any actively gay characters. In 2007 during a book tour she announced to the audience that Dumbly was gay (still pining for Grindiewotsis or whatever), and when the audience cheered, Rowling said “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.” But really, in the books and films, Dumbly is just an old, white man, who happens to be the greatest wizard in the magical community and has spent his life educating children (and inviting orphans to come to his special school). This statement that Dumbly was gay is a day late and a dollar short. It was announced after all the books had been released, and there was already lots of speculation that he and Minerva were in a secret relationship.
There are ZERO gay/queer relationships in Harry Potter. In fact, there are more references to beastilaity than there are of queer relationships and people. This is a high school of a couple of hundred teens, set in a country that was one of the first to allow same-sex marriage. (I am aware that gay marriage was legalised in the UK seven years after the final HP book came out, but it’s not like everyone was in the closet until then.)
And there are NO openly LGBTQIA+ characters. As much as this angers me, the truth of the matter is that it actually really saddens me. Every time Rowling gets on her high horse and says they exist (but are secretly hidden from the reader like a dirty secret or an afterthought to appease her audience) I get immensely frustrated. Queerbaiting, and that is exactly what Rowling is doing, is not the example I want to set for current generation, nor the ones after.
Speaking of diversity, let’s continue on with the lack of people of colour (POCs) in the books and movies. We’ll start with Hermione (because controversy is fun, friends!).
Rowling has stated that she based 11 year old Hermione on herself. Perhaps the reason that Hermione’s skin colour isn’t mentioned is because Rowling, as a white person, didn’t feel the need to mention it. In her mind it was clear. But now, because of questions that have risen, and because she has been called out on her lack of diversity, she has made a last minute decision to potentially include more diversity. That’s right, Hermione could be any colour you want her to be.
The issue with this is that it comes across as disingenuous because of the early artwork and film casting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Emma Watson, and I always read Hermione as white (probably because I didn’t read the books until after the Chamber of Secrets movie was out), but even without Hermione, the first real POC we see in the series is Cho Chang. And I’m 98% sure that Cho is also the only person of Asian-heritage in the books. Angelina Johnson, Blaise Zabini, Kingsley and Dean Thomas (was he identified as a POC in the books?) are there, but they definitely don’t hold big roles. They don’t even hold medium roles.
There are absolutely arguments that Rowling makes in terms of classes and oppression. These are made through the treatment of house elves and goblins – I know that. But how many of Rowling’s readers can see their situation in those characters? Particularly when the main one, Dobby, sacrifices himself for the white, male hero of the story. Again, I don’t find that this accurately represents society, especially the racial profile of the UK at the time these were being written.
There’s also no disability representation, physical or mental. I could go on, but I think I make my point in the previous two paragraphs. Although, let’s explore one small mental health issue first. Let’s talk about the chapter/epilogue “Nineteen Years Later”.
Did you know that Rowling wrote it quite early on? Did you know that despite the fact that she wasn’t quite sure how the rest of the story would play out, she never changed that chapter? I understand the kid naming thing (I don’t agree with it, but I understand). I understand pairing the kids off with each other for story/character consistency (again, I don’t agree with it, but I understand).
Here’s what I don’t understand. Dumbly told them time and again during his tenure as Headmaster to band together; that the houses don’t mean anything; they are arbitrary teams that look at your traits and place you with similar people; it’s our choices that make us who we are. So, WHY was Albus so afraid of being in Slytherin? He should have been brought up to know that it doesn’t matter which house you are in, so long as you are kind. He also should have been brought up to know who he was named after, but sure, let’s pretend he didn’t for plot reasons. Instead he’s having a mild freak out at King’s Cross station at age 11.
Secondly, NO ONE seems to be suffering from PTSD. This one freaks me out to no end. These kids are the generation of war. From the age of 14/15 (and sometimes younger) they were exposed to murder, torture, deaths of loved ones, and actual battle. Some of them were even brainwashed by their parents about which side they should be on. They FOUGHT in a WAR. Like, an actual war, with real battle. Against their classmates. (I’m not sure how much clearer I can be about this.) And yet, they’re all fine. There’s no mention, in either the epilogue or Cursed Child, about them having depression, about attending therapy, no one is just quietly sobbing in a corner once a year or so, but also, no one is talking about it. I just, don’t get it. It’s not healthy. (At least in ACOFAS they’re getting drunk and spending money.)
Rowling is also CONSTANTLY correcting the fans and providing new and interesting ‘facts’ about the characters post series. Sometimes it’s interesting. But really, I think she just needs to let go and give the series to the fans. Do I care that “insert something about Ron’s Aunt’s birthday date and fave cake flavour” (sorry, I tried to find a relevant tweet, but I gave up because most of her recent tweets are about Brexit and UK politics)? No, probably not. Is it impactful on the story? If yes: then it should have been in the books and not an afterthought. If no: then I don’t care. Are Harry’s views on Israel relevant to the story or is this something else that Rowling is trying to adapt so that the books are more ‘relevant’ to kids today? We all need to learn when to let go, and Rowling’s time was about a decade ago.
All said and done, if Rowling had stuck to what she wrote and just said “sorry, I was writing a children’s books and it was never my plan to include diverse representation, but hey, I did talk about social classes with the elves” then I likely wouldn’t be writing this post. There is a lot of good she did talk about, but that stuff WAS in the books.
If you are still with me, then I applaud you. This is a lot of negativity directed towards one of your, possibly, fave authors. I was serious when I said I welcome constructive arguments. (If you’re just here to troll, slam me and tell me I’m a mean/bad person, I’ll probably just delete your comment.) I do love the Harry Potter series – make no mistake about that. I just don’t find the all this retcon necessary.
What do you think about Rowling’s diversity representation?
Is it a ‘too late in the game afterthought to appease the masses’, or do you think she was just playing it close to the chest?
Does it even matter?
It’s unfortunate but I agree. I’ve gotta say that the Twitter memes that have come out of this tho are gold ??
Ooh, I’ll need to go look them up. I don’t think I’ve seen them?? x
There are SO many Meeghan oh my lord hahaha I literally retweeted one the other day haha
Riiiiight, I need to be on Twitter more often then!! ??
I’m right there with you. A few fun facts every way once in a while would have been nice and a good treat for the fans, but she won’t stop coming out with more and more bits of info.
It’s starting to get frustrating as a reader, and the more she adds the more it makes you realize everything that HP is missing. But yes, a few fun facts are good!! Thanks for your comment x
What's She Reading?
I’m not defending Rowling, but I will point out that Padma and Parvati Patil seem to be obviously of Indian descent so…there are two more POC in addition to Cho Chang. Other than that, I completely agree with your post. This is an issue I have with other authors continuously publishing short stories and novellas to accompany their series. If it’s important enough, just put it in the books!
But to your main point, I think you’re completely right. It seems like Rowling is doing a lot of backtracking by saying, “Well, it doesn’t say that the diversity DOESN’T exist so…” Just admit that it wasn’t a priority for you while you were writing the series. Then just make sure you’re including diversity in your current projects. Sometimes it just kind of feels like she doesn’t want to admit that she wasn’t always so “woke”? I would just have a lot more respect for her if she’d be more transparent. I like what you said about how she needs to just give the series to the fans. I totally agree. I know she wrote the books, but she doesn’t have to insist on being the one person who knows the most about Hogwarts. I don’t know. It’s a little frustrating and as a POC myself, it feels super disingenuous to try to go back and claim diversity where there was none.
Sorry, I totally forgot about the twins!! But thank you for your comments, I completely agree with you. Let’s start a campaign #takinghogwartsback!
What's She Reading?
Haha yes! Count me in!
I have to agree with you on this, I feel like when she tried to write those mysteries and they didn’t do too amazing. She just threw herself into the HP world again and now is just milking it. At this point anything HP related if bought for me and I don’t financially support her anymore. Wish is heart breaking because I love the world so much, I am just kind of sick of her just throwing new information just for the sake of it.
YESSS!! I also agree with the not supporting her anymore. I refuse to buy the FB screenplays. I feel like it’s a shameful way to make more money than other screenplay writers. Different for Cursed Child because it will take years for the fans to be able to see it as a play. But movies? It’s cheaper to watch them than it is to buy a book, and I’m sure Warmer Bros have the global reach so that fans have an opportunity to watch them if they want.
The play wasn’t even really written by her. It was mainly written by Jack Thorne.
CG @ Paper Fury
oooof I couldn’t agree more and honestly it makes me furious that she keeps saying “yeah btw this diversity is definitely in the book!” because that’s not how you write diversely. She should just apologise for the white/straight/abled world view she absolutely flooded her novels with and then GO WRITE SOMETHING NEW and fix her mistakes! The whole embellishing on Dumbledore’s gay past and now telling us he and Grindlewald (lol I’m not sure if I spelled that right) had sex, etc etc…it’s just ridiculous. No, the books didn’t have to have used labels if the wizarding world didn’t have the words. But there needs to be on page active proof of diversity. Otherwise yeah maybe Snape walked with a cane…because she never said he didn’t. *eye roll*
She seems to be actively destroying her own fandom ?
A cane? No, he was in a wheelchair, surely. You know, with all those moving staircases. That’s why you only saw him in the Dungeons. And the main hall. And the Shrieking Shack. And the Headmaster’s Office.
I never have any idea how to spell Grindiewotsis, so I’ve just come up with a new nickname for him. Feel free to use it whenever you like.
Also, I’m not entirely sure I want her write something new… Have you read The Casual Vacancy?? Oooof. Talk about a snoozefest. I feel like she took the concept of Petunia Dursely and turned it into a village in the English countryside. ???
Never Not Reading
A lot of the people I hear talking about this, especially criticizing it, aren’t talking at all about the Fantastic Beasts series. I think this has been in the “news” cycle several times recently BECAUSE Dumbledore and Grindewald are key characters in this series. There was a moment in the most recent movie that Dumbledore says of Grindewald “We were closer than brothers”. He sees him in the mirror. While it’s not explicit, she has also hinted that we will get more about their relationship in future movies. So if you’re looking for on-the-page LGBTQ, I think you’re only going to have to wait a few more years. Could be wrong, maybe WB won’t let her come right out and say it, but we will see.
In terms of mental diversity, the new movies are also doing better. Queenie is a mind-reader, and so her mind seems to work much differently from the average person. She’s clearly often called “crazy” and it hurts her. Clear metaphor there. Newt is also potentially autistic, which is how Eddie Redmaine says he interprets the character. That won’t ever be “on the page” though because of the era in which the movie takes place.
In terms of ethnic/racial diversity, I mean there is no question that you are right. It’s not there. Buuuuuuut, it wasn’t in ANY books written in the 90s or 2000s. (Neither was LGBTQ rep either…) You gotta take it for the time period, imo. Everyone says “She hasn’t written any ______ since then!”, but she hasn’t written ANY Harry Potter books since then. All we’ve got is these new films. And they’ve written themselves into a clear corner by choosing a historical era for the new movie series. There likely won’t be any racial or LGBTQ diversity in the films simply because in that time period it wasn’t acceptable.
I’ve only seen the first Fantastic Beasts film, and it’s unlikely that I will watch any others. I love Eddie Redmayne and the creatures in the first one were done brilliantly, but I’m not in the habit of supporting Johnny Depp’s films (I am aware he was acquitted of all charges, I just don’t like him as a person), which is a huge shame because I love Jude Law.
I’m also not really supportive of Rowling selling screenplays for the Fantastic Beasts films (I think it’s a shameful was to get paid more than other screenwriters – Cursed Child I could overlook because it’s a play that takes years to circulate across the globe, but Warner Brothers have a far bigger and quicker reach) so it’s unlikely I’ll be buying them either.
I also absolutely understand that there might only be further queerbaiting in these movies because of the era they are set in. But I can’t really back the POC rep in them if your response to it is Nagini – a woman who turns into a snake that becomes the property of another white man trying to rule the world.
Also, I don’t agree with your comment about the lack of racial or queer representation in other books published in the 90s. Aussie authors Melina Marchetta and John Marsden both had racially diverse and POC main characters in their books (Looking for Alibrandi (1992) and Tomorrow When the War Began(1993)), as did Isobelle Carmody in the 1980’s (Obernewtyn). Another Aussie author Sarah Walker wrote The Year of Freaking Out (1997) about a girl who realises she likes other girls, plus you have Judy Blume’s book Summer Sisters. If you want other US authors, Jim Grimsley published Dream Boy in the 90s.
All I’m saying is that there was absolutely YA fiction being published in the 90’s that has POC and LGBTQIA+ representation in it. And the 2000s is when it exploded – there is SO MUCH diversity in fiction from then on.
God I agree with you sooo strongly.The issue isn’t even the lack of diversity (although that is certainly a larger issue); I just hate that she’s backtracking so she can get brownie points That’s not how you wrote it, you’re clearly looking for more popularity, and you’d do better by writing more books that DO include diverse characters if you’re so dead set on pretending you write that way.
Yes!!! Absolutely. Write short stories if you want to add to the world!! That way you can add in diversity, the fans are happy because there’s actual stories, not random tweets, and you can make money off them. A solution for everyone!
That’s a great idea! A short story collection would actually have been a much better way for her to handle this.