Hey, you know that gay wizard from those books?
You know I mean Dumbledore, right? The beloved and oft-quoted Harry Potter character, now a part of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, has the niche honour of being the world’s most famous fictional gay wizard. Although this was never referenced in any of the Harry Potter books or the films that followed, JK Rowling outed Dumbledore after she’d finished writing her “bigger than the Bible” series. Inasmuch as you can decide, without having even hinted at it in the Harry Potter cannon, that a fictional character is gay.
But, without going too deeply into the literary theory of all this: it’s cool that Rowling made Dumbledore gay. I mean, if she’d done this in the books, maybe 12-year-old little insecure gay me would have seriously appreciated it. But hey, there are better things to be bitter about, and here we are now: Dumbledore is, without a doubt, a gay dude. Who, according to Rowling, had a relationship with Gellert Grindelwald, who just so happens to be the protagonist of the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindelwald.
This week, however, Fantastic Beasts director David Yates revealed that his latest film would not acknowledge Dumbledore’s sexuality, or indeed the fact that he had – I imagine – tons of hot wizard sex with the titular character. This second wave of erasure – if we count Rowling’s lack of gay content in the books as the first – is nothing short of cowardice. Sure, if Yates had gone with the gay thing, the backlash would probably have been considerable. But a children’s film with an L, G, B or T protagonist would be a revolutionary first. So far, the closest we’ve come to this kind of representation is a couple of seconds in Pixar’s 2016 film Finding Dory in which two gay mums appear then disappear, leaving behind an almost untraceable amount of gay. Which is to say, kids watching the film – the very people who need to be told queer is cool and fine – aren’t going to notice a single thing.
Not only are on-screen non-hetero relationships still considered – by Hollywood – not safe for children, but it still seems we haven’t moved past the pernicious idea that homosexuality is nothing more than rollicking anal sex. Which is (obviously) not in any sense a bad thing, but definitely not something we’re going to see simulated in a Harry Potter spin-off any time soon.
Largely speaking, we’re still at the point where, in mainstream films, if there’s going to be a same-sex relationship, then the plot is specifically about “gay issues”. See, Carol and possibly even last year’s Call Me By Your Name. Both are critically acclaimed, and although I haven’t seen the latter, I’m a big fan of the former. Neither (bearing in mind what I’ve read about Call Me By Your Name) are about same-sex relationships that just… are. For this to happen, it would have to be in something other than a romance. So the fantasy genre would be prefect. This makes is all the more frustrating that the latest Fantastic Beasts film doesn’t even subtly acknowledge the sexuality of two of its characters.
Who knows though, maybe Yates will do a Rowling and – after the film has been shot, edited, and distributed to cinemas all over the world – announce, “Oh, by the way, Dumbledore? Still totally gay.”