This article contains Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald spoilers.
Back in 2007, J.K. Rowling revealed that she had always thought of Dumbledore as gay, eventually setting in motion Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as a highly anticipated movie. As previously hinted at, the future headmaster had been in a relationship with Grindelwald and eventually goes on to take him down in what has been described as the greatest dual of all time. But in the finished Fantastic Beasts 2 film, viewers were not treated to any insight into how this romantic relationship affects Dumbledore’s decision to take on Grindelwald, nor will we ever be. Instead Fantastic Beasts 2 re-closets Dumbledore in an act of queer-baiting that is a detriment to the story it’s trying to tell.
Sadly, this is not uncommon or new. The term queer-baiting refers to creators or even actors teasing homosexual characters or relationships subtly in interviews or within the property itself, without ever making them canon. It’s a crass, halfhearted way to pacify a subset of fans who are looking for inclusivity and representation without ever threatening the ad revenue from conservative companies or audiences who might take issue with the beloved headmaster having a boyfriend.
There was a time when fandom accepted that queer-baiting was the closest they could get to on-screen representation, but that’s no longer the case. Now, writers like J.K. Rowling have to defend their creative choices when they fall into harmful tropes.
Tapping into the homophobia of the time, rather than ignoring it, would have strengthened the script. Grindelwald’s most compelling invitations to new followers are his supposed values: freedom, love, and truth. Queenie joins him out of a desire to marry her muggle boyfriend Jacob, which is against the law in a wizarding twist on miscegenation laws. Why not include rhetoric on acceptance of the LGBTQ community? Or, following the Nazi allegory, if he opposed homosexuality as a self-hating gay man, it would have followed Hitler’s hatred of his own Jewish heritage.
The condescending tone that the Ministry of Magic uses with Dumbledore would make more sense if it was given a motive like homophobia. Instead we’re left to guess that perhaps it’s jealousy or mistrust, but based in what? It’s unclear to the point where everyone at the ministry whose last name isn’t Scamander or Lestrange seems like a cartoon character.
In place of an actual coupling of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, even in flashback, we’re introduced to a blood pact oath between the characters that is used to rob Gellert and Albus’s relationship of emotional weight. Turning their relationship from an emotional hurdle to clear into the issue of a mere physical MacGuffin to be acquired, a puzzle to be solved in the next movie, takes their feelings for one another off the table. It’s as though the movie is saying to audiences: Don’t worry, it’s not that Dumbledore can’t kill Grindelwald because he loves him as “more than a brother”—whatever that means—it’s just because of magic. And in the world of Harry Potter, magic is a problem to be solved.
But people aren’t puzzle boxes. Our emotions make our journeys more interesting, not less. The idea that a young Albus was taken in by Gellert’s personal, not magical charms—or that a young Gellert was ever so innocent as to be worthy of Albus’s affection—makes their eventual roles that much more interesting, similar to Professor Xavier and Magneto’s lifelong friendship in the X-Men series. But we all know there’s something about that ex you just can’t kick, a volatility to the fallout when a romantic relationship ends. Why remove that rich depth from the narrative?
In its place, we are told about the relationship between the two powerful wizards, instead of shown. In one case, we literally cut away from a moment when the Ministry clearly showed the two men together. Perhaps this was meant to preserve the surprise of the blood pact, but it is impossible to understand what Dumbledore was going through without prior knowledge. Even then, it fell flat. In a movie meant to set up the dynamic between the two most powerful wizards of their age, we barely saw them together, and certainly had no opportunity to feel what they once meant to one another.
Jude Law ably played the part that was written, a relatively spry Albus Dumbledore in his mid-40s. With his dry wit and empathy for his students already present, it’s the warm, roguish twinkle in his eye that can’t be written, and that was the most important thing for Law to bring to life. But imagine if Law had been allowed to play Dumbledore not as J.K Rowling wrote him in this script, but how she first wrote him in her original book series: an eccentric man and a flamboyant dresser, favoring purple, scarves, high heels, and robes.
Even if you’re not interested in the author’s ad hoc verbal post-scripts on the character, surely we can agree to take the written canon at its word and make Dumbledore’s three-piece suit a deep violet crushed velvet instead of a muted, straw-colored tweed? A scarf, a patterned vest, or a paisley tie—more in step with muggle fashions of the era, not that it ever phased the wizarding world before–wouldn’t hurt. Imagine a young Albus Dumbledore by way of Harry Styles, David Bowie, or at the very least Jay Gatsby. If you can’t let Dumbledore be gay, at least let Dumbledore be Dumbledore.
Keep in mind that despite the gritty gloom that hangs over much of the movie, even when Grindelwald isn’t there, Fantastic Beasts 2 takes place in 1927. This is pre-1929 financial crisis. This is the Roaring ‘20s, the era of the Dandy. Where are the white pants, the wide ties, the light gray suits? For comparison, the men of Boardwalk Empire (which takes place in a similar era) wear a variety of colors, including lavender and what can only be described as creamsicle.
If you think clothing seems trivial, in which case I’ll direct you to the famous “cerulean sweater” monologue from The Devil Wears Prada. In this case, Dumbledore’s sedate makeover is all part of coding him as a heterosexual leading man to the masses while simultaneously sending out signals of his homosexuality to the community that’s interested. It’s queer-baiting and it’s an actively harmful way for money-hungry companies to have their cake and eat it too.
It’s deeply frustrating that J.K. Rowling went out of her way to reveal Dumbledore’s sexuality only after she was done writing the books and to then re-closet him when she writes the script for movies about this exact time in his life. Even worse, the Harry Potter world has always been about accepting people for who they are. If only J.K. Rowling and Fantastic Beasts 2 could accept Dumbledore as she wrote him.