As Warner Bros. get ready to start promoting their latest venture into the wizarding world, with the trailer dropped for their upcoming feature Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the controversy around this project once again rears its head like a Niffler in a bank. The main two causes of outrage towards this production are the studio’s decision to stand by their casting of Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald, after allegations of domestic abuse by former wife Amber Heard, and their decision to not portray their version of Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) as openly gay.
Both these controversies have haunted the production of this movie and for good reason. For those unaware, in 2016, Amber Heard filed for a divorce against her then-husband, Johnny Depp, claiming that he had been abusive to her, both physically and verbally. Photos of injuries sustained by Heard were subsequently published by People Magazine. Though Depp and his Lawyers denied the allegations, the public perception of Depp vastly shifted. And when, later that year, it was revealed that Depp would be playing the character of Gellert Grindelwald, people were understandably angered.
Petitions sprang up online, asking the filmmakers to recast the role, and some even considered boycotting the movie intentionally. The response did nothing to quell their anger. Director David Yates referred to the claims as “a dead issue,” and defended him in an interview with entertainment weekly, saying, “Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”
This response, unfortunately, is often heard when women accuse men of harassment and abuse and promote a culture that discredits abuse survivors coming forward. JK Rowling has also defended the casting, claiming that she is abiding by Heard and Depp’s desire to “get on with their lives” and stated that she was “not only comfortable sticking with our original casting but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.” That said, she acknowledged that some people would not be satisfied by the studio’s choice.
We now, however, live in a post-Harvey Weinstein world. 2017 saw major Hollywood figures get pulled off their respective pedestals, and the issue of sexual assault in Hollywood has never been more prominent. The Orchard cancelled the theatrical release of I Love You Daddy following the sexual misconduct accusations against Louis C. K. The CW Network fired Andrew Kreisberg, an executive producer of all 4 of their hit DC shows. And TriStar Pictures reported spent another 10 million dollars on re-shoots for All The Money in the World as well as suspending their Oscar bidding, due to the multiple accusations towards Kevin Spacey.
It is disappointing that a franchise that is, in many ways, about the power of someone overcoming abuse, is willing to endorse the presence of an abuser
Whilst all of these projects are far less prominent and expensive than the Fantastic Beasts franchise, it is understandable why many are angry at JK Rowling, as well as the production team behind Fantastic Beasts, for keeping Depp in this high-profile role and supporting his career despite their being evidence to support his wife’s domestic abuse claim. It even feels like Warner Bros is trying to awkwardly avoid this issue. The trailer for the new film only features one shot of Depp, despite him being the titular character, however, he is still used for the film. It is disappointing; particularly for a franchise that is, in many ways, about the power of someone overcoming abuse, is willing to endorse the presence of an abuser.
And all of this happened before people became angry at the movie for its portrayal of Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality. Despite Rowling confirming Dumbledore’s sexuality in an interview in 2007, he has never been canonically confirmed as gay in any of the books, films, or even The Cursed Child. Despite Rowling being an advocate for LGBT equality, Dumbledore is still the only character to be confirmed as gay, and many LGBT fans were excited to see a young, hot, openly gay Dumbledore in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. However, in January 2018, Yates did an interview with Entertainment Weekly and revealed that Dumbledore’s sexuality would not be explicitly shown on screen. “They fell in love with each other’s ideas and ideology, and each other” he stated, as well as saying that fans are “aware of that,” regarding Dumbledore’s sexuality.
It seems like Rowling is trying to claim credit for diversity without every properly establishing it
Unsurprisingly, many people were angered by this. The Harry Potter Universe features over 200 hundred characters, and now the one confirmed LGBT+ character won’t be openly seen to be so? In a movie that is specifically about the relationship between Dumbledore and the man Rowling claimed he was in love with? It feels insulting to LGBT+ fans of the series to have their one source of representation in the stories straight-washed. It seems like Rowling is trying to claim credit for diversity without properly establishing it.
Only once the books were finished did she announce Dumbledore was gay, but when the time came for her to put her money where her mouth is, she seems reluctant to do so, however much money she’s worth. Admittedly, this is only film 2 of 5 planned, and Rowling has hinted that Dumbledore’s sexuality may be addressed in future films. However, this feels more like queerbate than anything else, since it is unlikely that Warner Bros would put this aspect of Dumbledore in any future movie if they weren’t in this one. LGBT+ representation is still minimal in modern blockbusters, in order for the same blockbusters to make money in countries where being openly LGBT+ is less accepted. And whilst films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther (that latter of which grossed one billion dollars worldwide just this week) prove that films made by and starring underrepresented minorities can be financially successful, this trend has not yet spread to include movies with LGBT+ main characters.
So, will these factors likely hurt Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when it debuts later this year? My guess is, unlikely. There is still a massive audience who want as much Potterverse material as they get, and since Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did well at the box office in 2016, it’s unlikely that these two issues will make most of the audience stay home this November. Blockbusters have done well despite making controversial decisions; Doctor Strange grossed 670 million dollars despite being accused of whitewashing. So, I expect it will clean up nicely at the box office. But I fear that the creative decisions that JK Rowling, and the rest of the creative team behind this new wizarding world, are slowly poisoning this franchise. And though this film is still eight months away and may potentially redeem itself in some way for these flaws, it is starting to feel that, a certain amount of magic, has vanished.