There had been rumors that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was a transphobe for years based on her following and liking tweets from some prominent British practitioners of that particular dark art. Recently, she made it more overt with a series of tweets condemning using the phrase “people who menstruate” because it somehow erases women, and then claiming to love trans people despite their existence being an attack on the concept of gender itself. Emma Specter at Vogue has all the gory details if you want to read them.
J.K. Rowling is being a transphobic git. My only consolation is that the world she created will definitely outlive her bigotry. One day, and it may be quite soon, she will be left behind.
There’s plenty of indication it’s already happening. Katie Leung, who played Cho Chang, made her stance on the subject very clear by claiming to have new thoughts on her character and then immediately ceding the space to raise awareness specifically for the plight of trans women of color. She used citations to burn Rowling without ever saying the author’s name, which is definitely the most Ravenclaw thing ever seen.
She was followed by title role star and her on-screen boyfriend, Daniel Radcliffe, who expressed his gratitude for Rowling over the effect she has had on his life while stating unequivocally that she is wrong. It was a master class on diplomacy from the public face of Rowling’s literary empire while still being a stunning revolution in the brand's ranks.
The thing to remember about Harry Potter is that it is so much larger than almost anything else. It really is an empire, comparable only to properties like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The brand is valued at $25 billion and is worth more than over 80 sovereign nations. Hogwarts could double the GDP of Malta just by moving there. Thousands of people’s jobs, everything from butterbeer sales staff at Universal Studios to executives at Warner Bros., are dependent on the continued success of the Harry Potter franchise. The books still make up 5 percent of Bloomsbury sales, and there hasn’t been a proper new entry in the series in 13 years.
An endeavor on that scale is more than one person can possibly steer. It just takes up too much time and energy for most people. Warner Bros. has definitely kept Rowling in much more control than any author has ever had by letting her write two $150 million+ movies without any prior screenwriting experience, but there’s some evidence that trust in her is waning. The last film, The Crimes of Grindewald, was poorly-received by critics, on top of being the lowest-grossing film of the entire franchise. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did better with critics, but not much better at the box office. It’s not surprising that Steve Kloves, who wrote the scripts for every Harry Potter film except Order of the Phoenix, has been brought in for the as-yet untitled third movie in the new series. Rowling is still onboard, but Warner Bros. is clearly protecting its investment.
That decision happened even before Rowling decided to use her massive social media presence to wage an unprovoked war on trans people. It’s slowly, but surely moving into a Minecraft situation.
Minecraft is one of the few video games that could be compared to the Harry Potter franchise in scope, and it’s also another creation that had to be publicly pried from its problematic creator. Markus "Notch" Persson made billions off his video game, which spun into books and other media at an astounding rate. He is also well-known for using Twitter to spread noxious bigotry like advocating heterosexual pride month, supporting the QAnon conspiracy, and of course transphobia. His behavior became a liability, and in 2019 Microsoft quietly removed any reference to Notch from the game. Notch wasn’t even invited to the tenth anniversary celebration of the game. Why? Because Notch had become a problem for the giant company that controlled his beloved creation.
We’re not there yet with Harry Potter. It’s an authored series in ways that things like Star Trek and Doctor Who are not. Rowling will likely have control over this universe for years to come.
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That said, expecting Bloomsbury and Warner Bros. to allow her to endanger their profits is ridiculous. Some years from now, Warner Bros will drive a truck load of money up to Daniel Radcliffe’s house and beg him to put the glasses back on, and eventually Radcliffe will do it just like Harrison Ford did for Han Solo. Will he balk if Rowling is still being a bigot at the time, unwilling to be associated with her the way the cast and crew of Roseanne finally had to send the star of their show packing and go on without her? He’s made no bones about the fact he is happy to stand against the billionaire founder of his career on this issue. Sometimes the free market really does have the right answer to a problem.
And to what good end is keeping an annoying bigot in the loop? Rowling brings her name to the enterprise and little else at this point. Since penning Deathly Hallows she has written a series of internationally best-selling mystery novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith. However, when it comes to Harry Potter she has turned in one really bad play, one really bad movie that bombed domestically, and one half-decent movie that mostly skated by on cool period costumes and Eddie Redmayne’s charm. By far the most compelling people doing anything with the Wizarding World are fan fiction creators like Emily McGovern and Kelsey Ellison, not Rowling.
Somewhere out there right now is the Harry Potter version of Russell T Davies, an enormous fan filled with the possibilities of the universe writing fan fiction while building a career and just waiting for a crack at their dream job. Harry Potter had already moved beyond Rowling before she started her attacks. It’s touched too many people’s lives through games, online communities, crafts, art, and more.
Her presence now is vestigial at best, and if she wants to hold onto her baby she will either have to adapt or dedicate herself to fighting with some of the most powerful companies in the world to keep her control. Notch couldn’t do it. George Lucas ran away screaming from it twice. Maybe it won’t happen until after she dies, like it did with Walt Disney, but it will happen. What Rowling created is something so much better than she is, and it means enough to the world that her smallness cannot contain it forever. All she’s doing with her current hate is hastening her own exit.