J.K. Rowling, author of the famed “Harry Potter” series, has long been known for her themes on social justice and equality. However, more and more fans have leveled accusations against Rowling for failing to include meaningful representation in her works.
It is practically impossible to be unfamiliar with the Harry Potter franchise, and by extension, Rowling. The series is characterized by a heavy focus on equality, and it repeatedly shows the harm to individuals and society as a whole that comes from prejudice and discrimination.
Recently, more and more fans have started calling out Rowling for failing to represent various minorities in her writing. These accusations range from having Hogwarts feature only a few people of color to not including representation of LGBT characters to failing to portray non-Christian wizards.
As an active Twitter user, Rowling often releases extra information not seen in the novels. Most of these tweets are appreciated as additions to “canon,” or the accepted truth within a creator’s works. However, many others have provoked backlash from fans who see them as too little, too late.
For example, when asked about whether there were Jews in Hogwarts, Rowling named Anthony Goldstein, a minor character, as a Jewish wizard. While some fan responses were positive, others criticized her for only naming one.
Rowling defended her tweet, explaining why she had specifically mentioned Goldstein. However, fans remained unsatisfied, stating that her confirmation that Goldstein was Jewish did not actually count as representation.
Many Twitter users argued that without details like how Goldstein celebrated Hanukkah during the Christmas season at Hogwarts written into the novels, Goldstein was, for all intents and purposes, not actually Jewish.
Freshman Harshini Ganesh says, “While it’s good to know that Hogwarts contains students from many religious backgrounds, it would be nice to see how that actually plays into the world of Harry Potter. Just stating who wasn’t Christian doesn’t really make it more diverse.”
This represents a common trend amongst fans of the series. They do not specifically disapprove of the inclusion of minorities; rather, they resent what they perceive as a lack of “meaningful” representation. If a character’s sexuality or religion is not clearly written, they ask, is there a point to stating what it is at all?
Many fans have cited the principle of “death of the author” with Rowling. This idea states that once an author’s work is published, they lose the right to be the sole owner of meanings found in the text. In other words, a reader’s interpretations are just as valid as the author’s, and the author’s words.
This is a controversial take on the relationship between creators, their works, and their fans, but a common one. Many fans claim that it is too late to “fix” the series.
Freshman Ashnu Cassod says, “J.K. Rowling should focus on representing more people in her newer books instead of pretending there was representation in the Harry Potter series, especially if she is not going to actually show that representation when she has the chance, like what happened with Dumbledore.”
The most notable example of what many fans consider Rowling’s greatest failure to provide representation is through the character Albus Dumbledore. In 2007, two years after the character’s death, she announced that she had “always thought of Dumbledore as gay,” marking Dumbledore as the only character in Harry Potter who is canonically not heterosexual.
However, most fans complained that he was never clearly portrayed as gay, and opportunities to mention his sexuality have repeatedly been ignored. For example, later installments in the Harry Potter universe, such as the “Fantastic Beasts” movies, have failed to deliver the LGBT representation fans have been looking for.
The next movie in the franchise, “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” is set to feature both Dumbledore and Grindelwald in opposition to each other, making it a perfect opportunity to tease at their past romance. Not only would this serve to provide the LGBT representation “Harry Potter” is so lacking in, but it would also deepen the plotline by adding complexity and depth to the characters’ backstories.
However, an interview with director David Yates showed that Dumbledore would not be “explicitly” gay.
Conversely, the stageplay “The Cursed Child,” which followed the second generation of the cast of “Harry Potter” characters was accused of “queerbaiting,” or teasing at LGBT representation without including any overt content. Many fans stated that the relationship between the main characters, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, read more like a romance than a friendship.
This is a highly debated topic in the Harry Potter fan community, but the fact that the addition to the Harry Potter universe yet again failed to bring in LGBT representation still stands.
Another controversy that arose as a result of “The Cursed Child” was the issue of casting black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger.
Long beloved by fans as the model of a girl that could be smart, beautiful, and capable in equal in measure, Granger was portrayed by white actress Emma Watson in the Harry Potter movies in which Rowling was involved in the casting. The announcement that a black actress would play Granger was met with both criticism and anger from fans.
While many praised the decision, others pointed out the fact that Rowling never actually said Granger was black. Those against the decision cited a single sentence from one of the books, which described a terrified Hermione as having a “white” face.
In response, Rowling stated that Granger was never explicitly described as white either, but rather as a girl with frizzy brown hair and brown eyes. She asserted her opinion that Dumezweni was “the best for the job,” and she stated that “Rowling loves black Hermione.”
This issue is perhaps highlighted by how few characters of color are in the Harry Potter universe. On the whole, the majority of characters are white. In fact, more than 99 percent of the cast for the Harry Potter movies was white.
Many fan artists had drawn Hermione as black in their own interpretations of canon long before “Cursed Child” came out, and Indian versions of Harry Potter have been explored as well.
However, only side characters like Angelina Johnson, Lee Jordan, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Cho Chang, and the Patil twins are canonically of color, which has long drawn criticism from fans as well.
However, it is important to note that “Harry Potter” is not the only series Rowling has published. Her “Cormoran Strikes” mystery novels feature a trans character and a gay character, and the plot plays on the reader’s stereotyping to hide who is the murderer.
As an author who is still involved in expanding her universe, Rowling is entitled to add in her input when she wishes. However, including the representation the wider world has been hoping for would be a great step forward for the already rich and layered world of Harry Potter.
What do you think about the representation of various groups in Harry Potter? Do you think J.K. Rowling still has the right to extend her universe?