The new film in the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is just around the corner, coming out in November. This installment of the series will include many characters that appeared in the original Harry Potter films, including a young Dumbledore and the human form of the snake Nagini, who is apparently?
In a recent interview with Empire Magazine for their November print edition, director David Yates stated that Dumbledore, who was announced by author J.K. Rowling to be gay in 2007, would not be openly gay in the upcoming film (which includes the titular character Grindelwald, who is Dumbledore’s supposed love interest). He went on to say that although Dumbledore won’t be out in this film, he’ll still clearly be gay. “The story [of Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s relationship] isn’t there in this particular movie but it’s clear in what you see… that he is gay.”
What’s interesting about this quote is that there is basically an even split in which part LGBT publications are using in their headlines. Some are focusing on the “he is clearly gay” part where as others are focusing on “he’s not out.” Even in a marginalized community that constantly advocates for its own representation, we seem to lack a consensus on what good representation looks like.
A few years after J.K. Rowling announced Dumbledore’s sexuality, she started to get a negative reaction. Fans weren’t satisfied with announcements of the universe, they wanted evidence in the text or on the screen. This habit of Rowling to announce her diversity and inclusivity via tweets has become sort of a meme online. A couple of years ago, Rowling announced that a character’s werewolf disease was supposed to be a metaphor for HIV. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well.
JK Rowling, crying desperately: the sorting hat was trans
— glamorous wonderlady (@chaeronaea) September 9, 2016
I’m not an author. I don’t know how to begin to piece together a huge world like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. The issue is that Dumbledore’s sexuality matters very little if it was an afterthought. I’m sure there are more people of color at Hogwarts than we see, but it doesn’t help that the ones we do see are relegated to extras or plot devices. As an audience, we’re left with what we see, both in a book and in a film, not exposition from the author that she posted on social media.
In the same interview, Yates says that in the film we will see a sort of queer subtext. “A couple of scenes we shot are very sensual moments of [Dumbledore] and the young Grindelwald.” This is pretty much always what happens. We can either get the word “gay” or some subtle sexual tension, but never both. It’s like straight people think that if we use labels we’re taking away from the poetic nature of homoeroticism.
Representation in general is pretty tricky. The bigger problem goes way beyond the actual characters of the story, it is who is making our stories. In a, Jenny Han, author of To All The Boys I Loved Before, described her push for an Asian-American lead actress in the Netflix adaptation.
Han talked about how production companies would lose interest in the film adaptation when she specified that the main character would be Asian-American. “One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.”
Han’s experience highlights an issue with representation that we come across constantly. Just because a character is played by a person of color doesn’t mean that character was written like a person of color. This issue is further amplified when talking about queer characters, because queerness is not always an explicitly visual form of marginalization.
According to Yates, Dumbledore’s sexuality will be further explored in future films, hopefully more explicitly. Because the point is Dumbledore could be the champion of the Hogwarts annual drag competition, but if we don’t see it, it doesn’t matter.