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Posted February 5, 2018 by

Characters Retroactively Gay Are Not Representative

It would be really hard to have missed the recent controversy surrounding the second instalment of Fantastic Beasts, but in case you haven’t heard, here are the details. Aside from backing the casting of accused domestic abuser Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, the makers of Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald have now announced that the film will not be explicitly exploring Dumbledore’s sexuality. Harry Potter fans are rightfully enraged.

When the Harry Potter book series was first released, there were absolutely no LGBTQIA+ characters in the official texts or films. However, following the end of the series, author JK Rowling announced that Dumbledore was, in fact, canonically gay and in a relationship with Grindelwald. Fans, especially queer fans, took solace in this information.

But, a few more assertive readers questioned why his sexuality had not been explicitly mentioned in the text of the books. Many wondered whether Rowling was just trying to curry favour with the queer community by mentioning it after the series was over and sales had little chance of being adversely affected by homophobes enraged by the existence of a gay character in a fictional universe. Either way, little could be done and the matter was settled.

Characters Retroactively Gay Are Not Representative

And, it would have remained that way had Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them not been a prequel teasing the backstory of Grindelwald. With the sequel to the film focusing on the feud between erstwhile lovers-turned-enemies Dumbledore and Grindelwald, queer fan expectation for details of the relationship was expectedly high. Unfortunately, early last week, those expectations were quashed.

The Fantastic Beasts filmmakers are not entirely at fault for yet again erasing queer representation from the Harry Potter canon. Genre films, as a whole, have spectacularly failed the LGBTQIA+ community. The Marvel and DC films have not included even one queer character, though their television counterparts do have a few. Even non-comic book blockbuster films have failed to include queer characters. Star Wars: The Last Jedi put rumours of a Finn-Poe Dameron romance to rest with a new romance between Finn and Rose, instead. The only exception has been Star Trek, which included a blink-and-you-miss-it moment between the new Sulu and his husband. The current show Star Trek: Discovery has been much more overt with their gay couple.

However, what is probably worse than excluding characters on the spectrum of sexuality is when flimmakers insist a character is LGBTQIA+ even though nothing in the film states as much. Such as in the case of Valkyrie in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok.

Valkyrie Tessa Thompson Ragnarok

Actor Tessa Thompson, who portrayed Valkyrie in the film, confirmed on Twitter that her character was indeed bisexual (as she is in the comic books). However, when fans watched the film, there was no mention or indication of Valkyrie’s sexuality. Thompson later said that a scene had been filmed showing a woman in Valkyrie’s quarters but that it was cut on account of the film’s run-time. Fans were disappointed.

The disappointment over Valkyrie’s bi-erasure came on the back of Wonder Woman’s Themyscira, an island peopled entirely by women. The implication was that the women of Themyscira would obviously fall somewhere on the queer spectrum, but absolutely nothing in the film confirmed this. The follow-up DCEU film Justice League also failed to address this. Wonder Woman director, Patty Jenkins, did mention that there was a possibility of Themyscirans including queer people, but viewers still left the films wondering whether they were meant to assume that the citizens of the all-women island were nothing more than battle-ready monks.

One can see how the news about Fantastic Beasts 2 compounds the issue. Yet another film, set to be a blockbuster, refuses to have an out and proud gay character. It is particularly egregious because Dumbledore is supposedly canonically gay, so why leave out this important detail now? Author Rowling has also fueled the fire by complaining about the backlash she is receiving for erasing Dumbledore’s sexuality from the new film. In addition to her backing Depp’s return in the film, it seems that Rowling is out to antagonise her fans.

So, why can’t these characters be gay on film? Part of the problem seems to be the international market. Blockbuster films can often pass the billion-dollar profit mark from sales in overseas markets, a huge incentive to tailor films accordingly. The understanding is that numerous countries where these films would be profitable have strict laws against homosexuality. Thus, the films can include no LGBTQIA+ content, for fear of being censored or outright banned in those countries.

The uproar over LeFou dancing with a man for a micro-second in Beauty and the Beast confirmed this fear. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales removed a scene where Captain Salazar was shown to be gay for the very same reason.

Capitan Salazar -  Dead Men Tell No Tales

Why precisely can such scenes not be kept when the film is shown to domestic audiences? Surely, an edited version of these films can be shipped abroad instead? If it is a matter of one or two scenes that will appeal to a wider, more inclusive audience, it seems editing two versions, one for domestic audiences, another for international audiences, is the most likely answer.

Creating two versions, of course, is something that would happen much later in the production process. With regards to Fantastic Beasts 2, why are the writers already deciding to water down Dumbledore’s sexuality? Some fans have suggested that the Harry Potter series’ appeal to homophobic people may be a reason. Though the number of homophobes versus inclusive audiences is not quantifiable, it is assumed the number is large enough to affect sales drastically. Hence, the filmmakers’ desire to avoid disrupting the status quo, so as not to antagonise the anti-gay crowd. The same can be said of the Marvel and DC films. It is not a good look for Hollywood.

On the other hand, one can hardly blame the people behind the big budget films. The fans who benefit from the status quo also tend to be incredibly vocal when they feel the threat of inclusivity encroaching. Just look at the reaction to the only-women Wonder Woman screening in one small hall in one small city in USA. And to the X-Men­­ comics’ revelation that young Iceman was indeed gay. The rage from such ‘fans’ is apoplectic and often drowns out the pleas of LGBTQIA+ audiences who ask for some much-needed representation.

Young Iceman - X-Men

So, does it help if writers and directors proclaim an established character to be queer without any visual evidence to support it? A few years ago, it may have been all they needed to do but not any longer. Queer audiences demand more than scraps. By retroactively proclaiming Dumbledore gay after the release of the books, Rowling may have promised an inclusivity that was never there. Writers and filmmakers thus, hope to frame themselves as allies of the community when, in fact, they are not. They are doing the bare minimum, disingenuously trying to bait the queer community with promises of representation, thus capitalising on the community’s business while still pandering to the homophobes. This is not enough.

Queer audiences demand more and deserve more. After all, it is 2018. There are no more excuses to be made for purposely excluding a large part of the cinema-going audience. Can Hollywood, and media in general, step up to the challenge?


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Louis Skye
Freelance Contributor

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