Yesterday, HBO announced a celebratory special to air during the anniversary of the Harry Potter films. Dubbed Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, the Warner Bros. special will premiere on Jan. 1, 2022, promising interviews, cast conversations, and behind-the-scenes stories revealing how the series was made.
Members of the original cast⏤including the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint⏤will take part in the special. But, in a choice that’s raising eyebrows in some corners of Harry Potter fandom, J.K. Rowling — the author who launched the series with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 — will not.
Since becoming a literal billionaire following the success of her books, Rowling has created a difficult quagmire for publishers, licensers, actors, booksellers, and fans of Harry Potter to navigate. Since 2019, the author has used her immense platform to spread transphobia, othering a dangerously marginalized and underrepresented community in her home of England and around the world.
After facing backlash from fans and colleagues alike, Rowling has not only doubled down on her positions about gender identity, but also on her insistence that she should share transphobic rhetoric with fans of her children’s books.
Her notable absence from the special reignited these past controversies and rekindled the ongoing argument about whether her ever-dwindling involvement with the franchise is the result of “cancel culture.”
Such accusations from self-professed fans are impossible to disentangle from transphobic sentiments, with many online going as far as to blame trans people and allies for Rowling’s “cancellation.” But trans people don’t actually have any control over Rowling’s franchise, and a decision to remove Rowling from Harry Potter’s press is increasingly apparent.
Many stars of the series have distanced themselves from Rowling and the Harry Potter series, as has since been pointed out by some online observers, such as @notCursedE, who answered the query, “Where are the Harry Potter actors now?” with a pointed reply — “Distancing themselves from J.K. Rowling’s rapidly declining reputation.”
Radcliffe has previously renounced Rowling, and Watson, a UN Women Goodwill ambassador, has also distanced herself from the author. Eddie Redmayne, star of the ongoing Fantastic Beasts film series, condemned Rowling in an interview. And she even angered a Hufflepuff — Miriam Margolyes, who played Professor Sprout in the movies, publicly opposed Rowling’s views on trans people. Others still have silently downplayed any association with the author and films.
And yet, it wasn’t lost on former fans that Radcliffe and Watson are partaking in the special despite the controversy.
“Celebrities are rich first, allies second,” reads one viral rejoinder.
To be clear, it is unclear whether it was Warner Bros. or even Rowling’s decision to not feature the author in the special. There could certainly be a financial component to the decision; Inside the Magic concluded in a July 2020 article that the controversy was hurting book sales.
Meanwhile, there’s an irony developing in that the people who have really faced consequences for Rowling’s tweets so far are queer people on Twitter who — as one account of events alleged — got sued by the author for quoting her own tweets.
And as one tweet makes clear, Rowling doesn’t have to be a part of the special to benefit from it. “She will profit from it, feed those profits into anti-trans organizations, and trans people will suffer from it,” @ErinInTheMorn opined.
By simply buying into and promoting Harry Potter, entities like HBO Max and even individual fans risk reifying a transphobic platform. Some might even argue that Warner has decided to profit off of Harry Potter in spite of the consequences of Rowling’s platform, even without Rowling not being physically present in the upcoming special — and people are noticing.
So, before we jump to the narrative that fans are outraged that Rowling got “cancelled” via her omission from the special, we would do well to ask who gets to be a fan of Harry Potter. Removing Rowling from Harry Potter appears merely an attempt by fans and corporations to hold onto a franchise that is increasingly and distressingly inseparable from transphobia.