In retrospect—a year and four months since the release of that first official trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—I’m inclined to chalk my optimism for the wizarding franchise to some medley of sleep deprivation, an empty stomach, and the sort of blissful shortsightedness that was all the rage in the early autumn of 2016. But at the time, you couldn’t have convinced me I was wrong to believe that the movie was setting up to portray Newt Scamander as a canonically queer character.
As it turns out, it wasn’t just the times in which I’d invested an undue confidence, but the ever-expanding Potterworld franchise, an ostensible beacon for change among a generation of blockbuster titles adherent to the status quo. In the 10 years since J.K. Rowling had first identified Dumbledore as gay, tossing an extra-textual buoy for a reading precious to many Harry Potter fans, she had built a niche through social media as something of a mouthpiece for forward thinking.
Complementing my pipe dreams with a heaping spoonful of upbeat cynicism, that Rowling had yet to make good on her battle cries with some bona fide representation in print only bolstered my faith that she (as the film’s screenwriter) and Warner Bros. would no doubt carry out a Fantastic Beasts with a homosexual Newt; Disney had flown high on the wings of racial diversity with its first Star Wars picture, and had only just begun discussing the prospect of LGBT characters for that galaxy far, far away. Beating the industry kingpin to the punch with the first queer-led franchise blockbuster would be no mean feat.
All this in tow, the me of 2016 wouldn’t hear of a Fantastic Beasts movie minus a gay Newt, much less a Fantastic Beasts series minus a gay Dumbledore, which is precisely what we were promised this week when director David Yates told Entertainment Weekly that the franchise’s second chapter, The Crimes of Grindelwald, would “not explicitly”—and that’s a direct quote—acknowledge the Hogwarts headmaster’s sexual orientation.
In lieu of an honest illustration of young Dumbledore’s (played by Jude Law) romantic love for the film’s eponymous Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), Yates offers what sounds more like an amalgam of platonic friendship and academic rivalry. “He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men,” Yates told EW, further watering down any sexual connotation by transposing Dumbledore’s attractions from Grindelwald himself to his philosophies: “They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology, and each other.”
It’s that “each other” that may ring the loudest to those taking issue with Yates’ evasion of an important opportunity, likewise his admission that “all the fans are aware of [Dumbledore’s homosexuality],” and what’s more Rowling’s countless tweets affirming appreciation for the legions of queer readers who have found refuge in her work. Every such remark resounds as an echo of one of the most sinister phrases to fall on queer ears: “behind closed doors,” which is wielded all at once as a prideful display of self-satisfied tolerance and a hard-nosed warning to keep your otherness in the dark where it belongs.
As is intrinsic to the recipe of the “behind closed doors” mentality, I’d wager that the likes of Rowling and Yates take pride in their off-screen thumbs-way-up attitude to LGBTQ tolerance. Furthermore, I’m in no position to conclude whether this is their ground-up approach to queer representation or a consolation prize after having been talked out of overt embrace thereof by studio suits savvy to the American public’s existential growth spurt. Neither backstory assuages the sting of Yates’ “Not explicitly,” or forgives the satisfaction with which he is permitted to deliver it.
None of these grievances are unique to the scenario surrounding Fantastic Beasts, and all will be duplicated time and again for certain. But what makes this particular franchise such an especially virulent purveyor of said grief is how effectively it and its creators promised us we deserved better. Not only through Rowling’s tweets but through her writing did she insist to a generation of readers: You’re good enough. But what Rowling and the Harry Potter family seem to have forgotten is that “you’re good enough” doesn’t mean “you’re good enough, but not for us.”
Images: Warner Bros.
M. Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Find them on Twitter @micarbeiter.