J.K. Rowling Needs To Stop

A Rant on Retroactive Representation

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The world today is a very diverse place, and we are in an era that craves representation and is not afraid to speak up and demand it. While politics is where this change mostly plays out, the sentiment has gradually integrated itself into many parts of modern day society with the most common being entertainment.

Before this change began, the most basic representations of different cultures, sexuality, identities, races, and so much more were lauded the “best” of their time – a time when any minority would willingly take these representations despite their flaws because there was so little of it. Now, as mentioned before, times have changed. Subsequently, standards have changed.

Which brings me to my point: many people in the industry have seen this as a way to earn some “cred” in society. J.K. Rowling has done the most obvious things. Rather than leaving the series as is, she’s altered many aspects of her Harry Potter series and its characters – retroactively making them seem more progressive.

Yes, representation of any kind, just even a tiny sliver, may have been acceptable before. But now that the entertainment industry has seen the likes of Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Wonder Woman, and Coco – the standards and the stakes are higher. Rowling just doesn’t seem to get it and her offenses keep piling up.

Joanne Murray, also known as J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

In December 2014, after a fan asked her on Twitter if there were any Jews at Hogwarts, J.K. tweeted that Anthony Goldstein was a Jewish wizard. Specifically, this character was not a central character in the books and his culture was never explored or mentioned. Alright, maybe a pass for a first offense – but no, that’s not even the first or the worst.

After the series officially wrapped in 2007, Rowling once again took to announcing her “progressive” character traits. This time, she declared that Dumbledore happens to be gay. She received mixed reviews on this reveal – some praised the move as it was a step towards representation, others said it was far too late as he was already deceased, and of course she received backlash from conservatives for including homosexuality in a children’s book (despite having no lines addressing his sexuality in the book).

In addition, Rowling seemed to backpedal on her words later on, stating that Dumbledore never loved anybody else after Grindelwald and lived the rest of his “celibate and bookish life” as an asexual in what seems to be an attempt to appease conservatives and cleanse her hands of implicit homosexual sex.

Rowling has continued to run with it despite the fact that his queer identity is never addressed in the books and the Fantastic Beasts series will not be explicitly representing him as a gay man. What does it mean that Dumbledore is allowed to be gay in the collective imagination but not in the books or on the big screen?

It doesn’t end there – Rowling has acknowledged and expressed support for a fan theory that Hermione Granger is black. She tweeted, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione.”

Yes, yes I know – seems like it should be a great thing! Hermione Granger is an amazing and well developed character. However, upon further inspection of her writing, Rowling has never explicitly stated that Hermoine isn’t white and has never addressed in text the culture attached to Hermione being black. Writing in a race-neutral way is a damaging pass for representation because it allows many readers raised in a racist, sexist society to interpret the  descriptions as the norm – white.

Her retcon of the “white” Hermione Granger doesn’t even stick because upon further interpretation of the text- specifically the third book- it reads “Hermione’s white face was sticking out from behind a tree.”

In 2016, many people were excited for the release of “A History of Magic in North America” on Pottermore. While the idea of magic in North America is fascinating, Rowling’s approach brewed another batch of controversy in her depiction of Native Americans.

Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Native American studies scholar, wrote extensively about this problem in her blog post “Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh.”

Colonization erases our humanity, tells us that we are less than, that our beliefs and religions are “uncivilized”, that our existence is incongruent with modernity. This is not ancient history, this is not “the past.” The ongoing oppression of Native peoples is reinscribed everyday through texts and images like this trailer. How in the world could a young person watch this and not make a logical leap that Native peoples belong in the same fictional world as Harry Potter?

You’d think it’d be over now, right? After receiving so much backlash over these things, maybe she’s learned her lesson. Unfortunately, no. She’s hit Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, the LGBTQ community – what next? Oh, right – women.

With the revelation of Johnny Depp’s domestic abuse of ex-wife Amber Heard, many fans called for a recast of Depp’s character, Gellert Grindelwald. But in fact, Rowling and the team behind the Fantastic Beasts 2 movie have doubled down on his casting and instead of condemning him for his violence against women, they have shown their support for him.

Even Daniel Radcliffe has spoken out on the issue, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I suppose the thing I was struck by was, we did have a guy who was reprimanded for weed on the [original Potter] film, essentially, so obviously what Johnny has been accused of is much greater than that.”

Nagini, played by Claudia Kim.

And now, the latest issue. Recently, Rowling confirmed that in the Fantastic Beasts 2 movie Nagini is a Korean woman. In the movie, she is the main attraction of a wizarding circus and freak show called Circus Arcanus and continuously exploited by Skender, the cruel head and Ringmaster. But fast forward to the end of the series and yes, an Asian woman with an Indian name ends up becoming the pet albino snake to the leader of the Death Eaters aka the fantasy world’s version of a white supremacist.

If you didn’t get that, let’s breakdown how even more horrible this is. Nagini is a Korean woman with an Indian name from the 1920s. First of all, she’s from a time where the rise of fascism began and where Korea was taken over by Imperial Japan. Second of all, out of all the South East Asian countries, Thailand is the only country that escaped colonialism and India, where the name Nagini originates, was a British colony. Her eventual service to a man with fascist beliefs? We’ll address that later.

She also suffers from a blood curse known as a Maledictus that is ONLY passed through women. Hmmm, oh and this blood curse? Said curse eventually has this Asian woman becoming a beast and a monster in her own body.

Oh, I wonder what deals with blood that ONLY happens in women? Menstruation, a natural cycle in the body, is often viewed as a curse by many women and even other cultures refer to menstruation as unclean and taboo despite its function as a natural process in a woman’s body. On top of that, the body shaming women experience, many even becoming anorexic to fit society’s mold of a woman… Get where I’m going with this?

Eventually, she will have a piece of a man’s soul forced inside of her and become completely submissive to him. Wow, that doesn’t sound painful or imply something even worse when read out of context and in between the lines, does it? Included in that, a pretty Asian woman as a white man’s pet? That’s straight out of a stereotype.

(And then she will ultimately meet her end by being beheaded by a teenager.)

While I would normally save my judgement and this scathing review for after not-watching this movie, critically thinking about it is enough to see the flaws and the wrongness of this last minute representation reveal. Whether or not Rowling intended for it to come across this way, many fans have interpreted it as such and she’s received backlash again.

Not all fans within the fandom have condemned her for this move (or any of her other moves), as some are blindingly loyal to the series of childhood fantasy. But what people need to realize is that her add-ins aren’t doing anything to further the story – the story is finished and she’s simply grabbing for diversity points. Her continuous retconning of the books in the name of diversity has consequences and she doesn’t even know when to stop. She’s taking to Twitter to defend and elaborate on her decisions like Trump does to complain.

Kayleigh Anne in the Independent says it best: “Rowling has talked up the number of LGBTQ and Jewish characters in the series. The problem is we never see those elements of characterization in the books themselves. The faith, race and sexuality of her characters has been shoe-horned in retroactively, and it can’t help but ring hollow.”

In her quest to include all types of representation to compete in a progressive and diversity championing industry, J.K. Rowling has tarnished a once loved children’s series with her half baked and ill-researched attempts at inclusion. The Harry Potter franchise now joins a long line of films and books in which representation is relegated to the realm of problematic, implicit, and harmful.