At the very start of 2022, people all over the world sat in anticipation, waiting excitedly to watch some of their favourite actors from the films that shaped their childhoods reunite. There have, however, been some controversial opinions on the nature of the reunion and the involvement of the books’ author, J.K. Rowling, after questions have been raised about her series of transphobic comments, as well as a distinct lack of diversity in her novels and their film adaptations. We sat down with two lovely members of Royal Holloway’s Harry Potter Society – Mayuree Kumkar and one who preferred to remain anonymous, to hear their thoughts on the matter.
The members began by speaking about how it was an emotional and nostalgic experience. One has not actually seen the films for quite some time, and the other watches them fairly regularly, but they both still share a special connection to the books and movie adaptations. The first member spoke about how “It felt like a reunion to me too”, highlighting the extent to which fans of the franchise feel like they are a part of a special community.
Mayuree went on to discuss how we have watched the actors grow and go through transformations, elaborating that “I don’t think any other movie has you feel like you grow up with them as you watch it”. She also said that “it isn’t pure coincidence that they are like their characters”, which might make some of the actors’ activism even more poignant to some.
When asked how they felt about Rowling’s part in the televised reunion, the first interviewee spoke about how she noticed that “she was kept apart” from the others who helped make the franchise what it is today, presumably because of the controversy surrounding her recently. Additionally, she is “not a big fan of her for many different reasons”. It is interesting how someone so passionate about the series can also feel an element of disappointment in the author’s approach to important topics. Notably, this fan also felt that “she was very cold about it” in comparison to other cast members.
In response to Rowling’s transphobic comments, Mayuree said “I was actually really glad to see Dan, Rupert and Emma talk against it and I personally felt like, wow that is the stand you are supposed to take!”. She also disclosed that “I don’t necessarily like her as a person, but the stories that she wrote are something that I think shaped the entire world in a different way”, which is a statement I think would resonate with a lot of our generation who grew up avidly reading and watching Harry Potter.
With regard to inclusivity, Mayuree feels that “There is hardly any diversity in the books and movies” and described how “As an Indian, she showed two Indian girls, and I personally feel that their representation was so poorly done. One of the things that annoyed me about the movie was the yule ball outfits. I think Indian outfits are really pretty and I don’t think the movie did justice to their outfits.”
We also spoke about the element of tokenisation and how it seems as though the author has inputted Asian characters for the sake of it instead of actually putting time and effort into making sure their inclusion was authentic.
I asked the two society members to what extent they think it is possible to separate Rowling from her work. They first explained how Rowling might have used ghost writers for some of the novels, and how that allows her to distance herself from the author. Additionally, it was picked up on that “The movies are even further away from her”, so it can be even easier to see them as a different product entirely, and to shield some nostalgia from the controversy.
“It’s touched so many hearts so that’s what I try to take from it.”-Mayuree Kumkar
When asked how they think Rowling’s prejudice has affected the fanbase, the first of the two responded with “I think it started a massive rush of fan fiction”, going on to state how “Especially in fan fiction, people try to represent minorities a lot more”, so there are new opportunities for fans who belong to minority groups to feel seen. She finished by saying “People realise that she butchered it, basically, and try to rewrite or expand the story into something better”.
The discussion finished with an eloquent point from Mayuree which I believe says it all. She explained “I would obviously have loved to see some representation in the books, for example of people that aren’t necessarily straight, and to have different colours represented is something that I would have loved to read. Hogwarts is the one wizarding school in the UK, so it is very rare to just have everyone be one colour. It would have been quite natural if she had included other races and people from the LGBTQ+ communities. That would have been a lot more lovely to read than what it was.”