Ignoring Dumbledore’s sexuality does not do the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ franchise any favors.
The Fantastic Beasts team is at it again with statements that just leave a bad taste in your mouth. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, director David Yates addressed the possibility of Albus Dumbledore building a budding romantic relationship with peer and adversary, Gellert Grindelwald, onscreen. Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling already declared Dumbledore gay years ago, so this isn’t a spoiler by any means.
However, when asked if the Fantastic Beasts sequel, titled The Crimes of Grindelwald, would portray the Dumbledore/Grindelwald relationship in any capacity, Yates replied, “Not explicitly.” He then attempted to justify that lack of acknowledgement of Dumbledore’s sexuality by implying that as long as fans knew the relationship was going to happen, it didn’t really need to be depicted outright in The Crimes of Grindelwald. Here’s what Yates had to say:
“But I think all the fans are aware of that. [Dumbledore] 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.”
While this doesn’t necessarily mean Dumbledore’s sexuality will remain undiscussed for the duration of the five-part Fantastic Beasts series, Yates’ remarks don’t instill a lot of faith nonetheless. Just because fans already know Dumbledore is gay doesn’t mean the character’s sexuality should be subtextual. This is especially so in such a crucial reintroduction to the big screen; we haven’t seen an incarnation of Dumbledore in seven years.
Letting a character be “a maverick and a rebel” does not negate the importance of acknowledging his sexuality in a substantial, meaningful way. Arguably, Dumbledore should be able to be all these things at once; this feels too obvious to state, but here we are. A gay Dumbledore exists to fans and critics alone, which does nothing for actual representation within both series. The portrayal of characters navigating their identities within any given text is vital for obvious reasons; the text is the reason these characters are alive and significant to readers or viewers in the first place.
Rowling herself has, in the past, been frustratingly coy about how Fantastic Beasts will eventually address Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald. She once said, according to EW, that “You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man… We’ll see him at that formative period of his life. As far as his sexuality is concerned … watch this space.”
Well, we watched and David Yates did not deliver. Honestly, neither did Rowling, who only revealed Dumbledore to be gay after the books were finished. There was no longer a way to work that kind of characterization into canon and really, the reveal felt inconsequential. Yes, Rowling’s announcement happened a decade ago, but even back then something felt oddly perfunctory about it. Were fans supposed to just reread everything and fill in the blanks? How is that different from having a headcanon, which fandoms indulge in on the regular anyway?
Nothing tangible changed after Rowling told the world Dumbledore was gay, because she just said it. It’s a safe option that didn’t rock any kind of heteronormative status quo when it comes to creating heroic fictional characters. Fantastic Beasts still has time to eventually include Dumbledore’s sexuality, but the fact that the writer, director and various producers didn’t jump at the chance to focus on that story is a tell; code for something that “doesn’t matter” to the story as a whole.
My own journey with the Fantastic Beasts series has fluctuated over several stages. First, it was me thinking it was an unnecessary cash cow when it was first announced. Then I actually saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and thought it had a surprising amount of heart (even if the film really was a cash cow). It was easy to love Eddie Redmayne and friends. That is, until the very end when Johnny Depp’s appearance proved to be one of the most disappointing cinematic twists in recent memory. The third stage was admittedly forgetting about …Where to Find Them in the midst of other blockbusters, but wondering when the sequel would come out with a modicum of interest. Fourth was the underwhelming title and image reveal of said sequel, and the warranted, renewed uproar surrounding Depp, which cast doubt on whether I’d personally see The Crimes of Grindelwald at all.
Now, the fifth stage is this new Yates quote that screams of LGBTQ erasure and for… what, exactly? There is no suspense “value” in “not explicitly” letting Dumbledore flourish onscreen — as gay as he is rebellious and conflicted.
Yes, Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts are part of a sprawling universe about magic; possibly one of the most fictional things there is out there. But to cast aside something as important as sexuality — especially after going out of your way to talk about it after the fact of canon, Jo Rowling — simply reeks. There are no brownie points to be gained by teasing something that is below the bare minimum of inclusion. The general consensus of response to Yates’ comments have been disappointment, but a lack of surprise. This should no longer be the case. Audiences are tired of waiting around for a franchise to actually be inclusive, especially one that should be easy for everyone to love.