Fantastic Beasts Missed the Boat on Embracing Gay Representation

Even if Fantastic Beasts 3 makes Dumbledore explicitly gay, it's probably too late for this franchise.

Jude Law as Dumbledore Looks Into the Mirror of Erised in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Photo: Warner Bros.

There’s no fixing the first two Fantastic Beasts movies in the Harry Potter prequel franchise. They’re narratively muddled, lack inspiring central characters, have concerning things to say about the rise of fascism, and notably refuse to make Dumbledore explicitly gay. However, with the third film in the franchise looking to recast Grindelwald, and with Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen rumored to be in talks for the role, the franchise has a chance to right itself when it comes to at least that last issue. But, with noted TERF Rowling reprising her role as both screenwriter and executive producer for the as-of-yet untitled film, a question presents itself: should it? Or, in other words: at this point, is poor representation better than no representation when it comes to a situation like Fantastic Beasts?

It’s hard to debate this sort of thing before the fact. We don’t know what Fantastic Beasts‘ attempts at queer representation might look like because the franchise has never given us any. Despite Rowling’s post-Potter books announcement that she has always considered the character of Albus Dumbledore to be gay and the Fantastic Beasts‘ centering of the generally presumed to be queer relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, the Fantastic Beasts franchise has avoided representing Dumbledore’s sexual identity or the specific nature of is relationship with Grindelwald—to the detriment of the story.

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Before the release of The Crimes of Grindelwald, director David Yates confirmed that the film would “not explicitly” represent Dumbledore’s sexual identity, adding: “But I think all the fans are aware of that. He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas and ideology and each other.” In other words, this isn’t an example of filmmakers maintaining plausible deniability when it comes to a character’s queer-coding or of a fandom’s reading of a character as queer. This is an example of the filmmakers (both Yates and Rowling) actively recognizing the character as queer in interviews and then bending over backwards in the film to avoid depicting it.

This is all years-old discourse, but I bring it up to say that perhaps Yates and Rowling are not the best filmmakers to tell a queer story—especially as Grindelwald specifically could so easily fall into the Hollywood tradition of queer-coded villainy. We might not know what Fantastic Beasts’ queer representation might look like before the fact, but we can certainly guess based on what we have seen before from these creators, which is to say: on both their parts, an apparent aversion to telling stories with queer characters and dynamics and, in Rowling’s case, a harmful history of transphobia.

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To be clear: This isn’t to say that the franchise made the right choice in choosing not to make Dumbledore explicitly gay in the films thus far. Warner Bros. had the glorious opportunity to be a pioneer of meaningful queer representation in the big-budget blockbuster. In the books, we learn that Dumbledore once thought similarly to Grindelwald. During their summer together in Godric’s Hollow as young men, they dreamed of ruling over Muggles together using the Deathly Hallows. The accidental death of Albus’ younger sister at the end of the summer changed all of that, putting Dumbledore and Grindelwald on different paths that would eventually lead them to a high-stakes duel for the future of wizardry and the world. The tragic queer love story of Dumbledore and Grindelwald was right there for the taking. Drop or diminish the role of Newt and the Fantastic Beasts, lean into the Charles-and-Erik of it all, and you’ve got yourself a solid blockbuster franchise—albeit one that doesn’t come with an easily marketable set of children’s toys.

There are a lot of possible reasons for why a queer version of the Fantastic Beasts franchise hasn’t happened, though the frustratingly opaque nature of Hollywood executive decision-making makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what they might be: Perhaps writer and executive producer Rowling didn’t want to tell an explicitly queer story. Perhaps the studio, like most studios, didn’t want to risk alienating homophobic audiences, in the U.S., the U.K., and in global markets. Perhaps there was so little diversity in the room that the question was never even raised. Probably, it was a combination of all three. The choice to avoid meaningful representation is rarely an outwardly malicious process. The relative homogeneity of our cultural system perpetuates itself through horrifically mundane methods that are no less damaging for how ordinary and calm they can appear on the surface.

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We are in an era of big-budget queer representation that involves a blink-and-you-miss-it kiss in the background of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker or a 30-second, throwaway queer cameo in Avengers: Endgame, and it sucks even while it is technically progress. So, yes, having a big-budget Hollywood movie franchise that centers queer characters and a queer dynamic (even if it is apparently too much to also ask for a depiction of queer community) would be a big deal, especially in a fan universe as prevalent as Harry Potter. But Rowling avoided incorporating explicit queerness into seven Potter books that featured over 700 named characters and over one million words. She’s not the person I want telling a complicated queer love story on the big screen and, in that sense, maybe it was always too late to make Fantastic Beasts gay, given the reality that she was always going to be the person steering this ship.

At this point, even if the Fantastic Beasts franchise were to narratively course correct when it comes to its queer representation, the fact remains that to support anything in the official Harry Potter universe means financially and culturally supporting Rowling, who has shown herself to be anti-trans. Being a supportive member of the queer community and/or being an ally to the queer community means showing up for all of the queer community. It means showing up for trans rights and considering that “cancel culture,” as Aja Romano suggested, “is best treated like a collective decision to minimize the cultural influence a person and their work have moving forward.”