albus dumbledore

Warner Bros./Pottermore

Why fans are so angry about Dumbledore’s sexuality in new ‘Fantastic Beasts’

It's been building up for some time.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 2, 2018   Updated on May 22, 2021, 2:15 am CDT

Fans won’t get to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in theaters for several months, so until a trailer is released, all they have to go on is the breadcrumbs teased by its cast and crew. And for some, those tidbits about the film have already left a bitter taste in their mouth.

The latest piece of information arrived earlier this week from director David Yates, who spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the younger version of Albus Dumbledore played by Jude Law. Though fans know he’ll eventually become the powerful Hogwarts professor and mentor to Harry Potter, Yates described a version of the character we haven’t seen before, and he briefly touched on whether The Crimes of Grindelwald would include Dumbledore’s sexuality. (J.K. Rowling had revealed that Dumbledore was gay during a Q&A at Carnegie Hall in October 2007 to much fanfare.)

“Not explicitly,” Yates told Entertainment Weekly. “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.”

Entertainment Weekly added the caveat that there was the possibility that Dumbledore’s sexuality would be factored into the subsequent three Fantastic Beasts films and highlighted Rowling’s comments from a 2016 press conference, where she said that the relationship between Dumbledore and the franchise’s villain, Gellert Grindelwald, would be a factor at some point.

“You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man—he wasn’t always the sage…We’ll see him at that formative period of his life,” she said at the time. “As far as his sexuality is concerned … watch this space.”

Backlash swiftly followed Yates’ comments, making it the second time in several months that his comments sparked outrage. Fans passionately shared why they were upset by the film not explicitly portraying Dumbledore’s sexuality with ire directed toward the actions of Yates, Rowling (who wrote the screenplay for The Crimes of Grindelwald), and a film franchise that is already testing their patience.

Fans looking for potential reassurance from Rowling online would not get it. She eventually responded, but her tweet largely complained about getting hate for comments she didn’t make and reminded fans it’s just one film out of a five-film franchise. She also included a GIF of rapper Lil Yachty shaking his head and hitting the mute button on a remote, suggesting that she was muting her detractors.

Rowling doesn’t owe fans anything, and she’s well within her right to mute or block anyone’s conversation on Twitter. But fans have just as much of a right to criticize the film’s choices, particularly as this latest clash coincides with a much larger push for representation in film.

The revelation that shocked the world

When Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay at Carnegie Hall back in 2007, it was at the peak of Harry Potter fandom. The reading and Q&A was almost three months to the day after she published the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the event was a chance for fans to pick Rowling’s brain. Even though Deathly Hallows answered many of the series’ looming questions, fans wanted to know even more—and back then Rowling was all too happy to oblige.

In one such question, a fan asked Rowling if Dumbledore had ever been in love.

“My truthful answer to you … I always thought of Dumbledore as gay,” Rowling responded. According to the Guardian, the people in the room were momentarily silent but eventually started applauding. She expressed surprise at the reaction in the room, noting that “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.”

Dumbledore had fallen in love with Grindelwald during the summer they spent together in Godric’s Hollow, she explained. Rowling indicated that Dumbledore’s feelings might have blinded him to Grindelwald’s true colors as they planned their future for the wizarding world, which made Grindelwald’s eventual betrayal all the more painful.

She added that Dumbledore’s sexuality was important enough to Rowling that she mentioned it during a read-through of the script for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after reading a line in which Dumbledore alluded to a woman in his past.

For many fans, the revelation was huge. Dumbledore, one of the most powerful wizards in the world, was gay. He wasn’t a cartoon or a caricature of a character; he was someone with strengths and flaws that weren’t tied to his sexuality, and his sexuality wasn’t his only character trait. Although some fans wished that Dumbledore’s sexuality was more explicit in the books and not just revealed by Rowling after the fact, it was largely seen as a win.

Dumbledore’s sexuality is integral to his character

For most of the Harry Potter series, Grindelwald was barely a blip on anybody’s radar—and the only reason we knew him at all is because Dumbledore’s defeat of him in 1945 is one of Dumbledore’s many life achievements. Grindelwald didn’t become a factor until Harry learned about Dumbledore’s past in Deathly Hallows, which some may have read as a friendship but now also included the subtext that Dumbledore was in love with him.

It wasn’t necessarily a vital part of understanding Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship, Rowling explained in a PotterCast interview two months after her revelation at Carnegie Hall, but it offered a greater insight into Dumbledore’s moral failings that unintentionally led to the death of his sister Ariana, some of which still haunted him decades later.

“Well, to me it was only relevant in as much as Dumbledore, who was the great defender of love, and who sincerely believed that love was the greatest, most powerful force in the universe, was himself made a fool of by love. That, to me, was the interesting point. That, in his youth, he … became infatuated with a man who was almost his dark twin. He was as brilliant. He was morally bankrupt. And Dumbledore lost his moral compass. He wanted to believe that Grindelwald was what he wanted him to be, which I think is what particularly a young person’s love tends to do. We fill in the blanks in the beloved’s personality with the virtues we would like them to have. So Dumbledore was wrong and his judgement was … very suspect in that time.”

Dumbledore also admitted to Harry in Deathly Hallows that it was because of their previous relationship that Dumbledore “delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been to shameful to resist any longer.”

By the time The Crimes of Grindelwald begins, several decades have passed since that final meeting. It’s not much of a stretch to think that it would still be a factor.

Erasure of LGBTQ representation

Although inclusive films are financially successful, recent studies revealed that speaking roles largely go to white men over white women or people of color while LGBTQ characters are still “nearly invisible” in movies. With Dumbledore’s sexuality not being explicitly portrayed, fans are left with another character who may be LGBTQ in theory but whose sexuality is either ignored completely or one given merely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Hollywood wants the credit for including LGBTQ characters in their works—as Rowling once received over a decade ago—with watered-down moments like LeFou briefly dancing with a man in Beauty and the Beast or a female character mentioning “girlfriend problems.”

As a whole Harry Potter is largely devoid of LGBTQ characters, with later books revealing that two characters fans long suspected were queer—Tonks and Remus—were in fact in a relationship with each other. The lack of representation led some to explore LGBTQ possibilities in fanfiction instead. (Some of the most popular relationships in Harry Potter fanfic—Harry/Draco and Sirius/Remus—are non-canonical same-sex relationships involving men.) Fans want to see themselves reflected in their fiction, something that especially hurts when a work of fiction appears to include queer characters before pulling back the curtain to reveal otherwise.

“Not only is representation important, but it saves lives,” Harry Potter Alliance Executive Director Matt Maggiacomo told the Daily Dot in a statement. “The HPA serves a community that is nearly 50% LGBTQ+. Most of us have had to find representation in fan works, or in other more inclusive stories. We sincerely hope that Dumbledore’s complete identity will be reflected in future installments of the Fantastic Beasts franchise.”

As it stands, this latest exclusion has led some fans to fear that Fantastic Beasts is erasing Dumbledore as an LGBTQ character. While it’s part of a larger debate in fandom, Rowling does consider her comments to be canon. But Fantastic Beasts will undoubtedly be more widely consumed than that decade-old Rowling Q&A, leading viewers to favor Fantastic Beasts‘ stance over an old Q&A reply. There’s also the fear that Fantastic Beasts is erasing Dumbledore’s sexuality so that the film can play overseas.

Rowling’s fan base has grown up without her

The fallout from Yates’ comments confirming that Dumbledore won’t be “explicitly” gay is far from the first time Rowling, Yates, and Warner Bros. have seen fans lash out over tone-deaf statements or material. Over the past several years, the divide between Rowling and her fans has become more apparent.

While some of Rowling’s revelations were once applauded, her responses on Twitter highlighting diversity at Hogwarts faced backlash because she failed to make that diversity apparent in the series. She’s faced accusations of appropriating Native American culture in a Pottermore write-up. She was criticized for several names she’s used for Asian characters across multiple works, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which she didn’t write but was part of putting together) was accused of queerbaiting fans with the depiction of the relationship between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. She has also publicly supported Johnny Depp, whose casting still deeply troubles some fans after Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard said that Depp physically abused her.

The controversies have tested fans over the years, fans who have grown up on the progressive messages portrayed in the series. Many of those fans were children when they first met Harry, but now they’ve grown up embodying many of those messages while Fantastic Beasts is, for now, seemingly not as interested in doing the same thing. For instance, the first Fantastic Beasts film—despite taking place in 1920s New York—had a mostly white cast.

We have three more films after The Crimes of Grindelwald to follow Newt Scamander and Dumbledore as they try to take down one of the wizarding world’s most nefarious dark wizards. It’s possible that those films might explore Dumbledore’s sexuality, especially as he chases the man he once loved (and still might) despite what he became. But after years of their patience being tested, asking fans to wait even longer to see that representation onscreen might be the final straw for some of them.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will arrive in theaters on Nov. 16.

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*First Published: Feb 2, 2018, 4:07 pm CST