It May Be Time For Someone To Sit J.K. Rowling Down Before She Does Anymore Damage To Herself Or The Potterverse Franchise
When Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them proved there was still plenty of cinematic appetite for the Harry Power Universe back in 2016, it was a virtual godsend for Warner Bros. Studios.
It gave Warner another profitable horse in their franchise stable as they sought to compete with Disney and the House of the Mouse’s embarrassment of riches. Despite Mickey’s enormous lineup, it looked like Warner was primed to take a run at Disney and having a renewed and vibrant Potterverse franchise (with the ever popular and affable J.K. Rowling at the helm) was another weapon in its arsenal.
What a difference a year makes.
Following Justice League’s dismal box office performance last November, Warner’s once vaunted DCEU is sputtering (we won’t see another release from the DC banner until December’s Aquaman). And it’s animated division seemingly took a step backwards following The Lego Ninjago Movie’s cool reception last September. With (the criminally underrated) Blade Runner 2049 and (criminally under appreciated) King Arthur bombing and failing to wither continue or launch new franchises, Warner’s stock isn’t what it was twelve short months ago.
Outside of it’s horror lineup, it looked like the Fantastic Beasts franchise was the only sure thing Warner had going for it while Disney charged ahead at warp speed with it’s Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar divisions.
But now the J.K. Rowling gravy train is looking like it could also fall of the tracks. Worse yet, it seems Rowling herself may be the culprit.
When Johnny Depp was cast as the villainous Grindelwald (the Potter world’s big bad pre-Voldemort), there was some fan pushback. Since then, that pushback has escalated to outrage in some corners as a result of Depp’s very messy, very controversial divorce with actress Amber Heard.
Heard accused Depp of domestic assault, and while the accusations were never proven in court the two did sign a letter conceding that neither party made false or misleading claims against the other when all was said and legally done. In short, Depp apparently signed a letter that said Heard’s accusations were valid (or at least not fabricated).
You can imagine how this development sat with Potter fans, many of whom occupy the more progressive end of the political spectrum. And as the #Metoo and #Timesup movements gained momentum, shedding light on the likes of Harvey Weinstein and many others, many were hoping that Rowling (who has been heavily involved with the new films) would take a firm stance against Depp’s inclusion.
Rowling instead defended both Depp and his casting, disappointing much of her fandom. When a disappointed fan, who was neither rude nor agressive, plead for an explanation, Rowling simply blocked her on Twitter in what was an example of exceedingly poor optics.
Accusations of an apparent double standard for what Rowling and Warner Bros. will or won’t tolerate (while Depp remains in a starring role, a much smaller player in one of the original Harry Potter movies was dismissed immediately and without question for marijuana possession) have either been ignored or dismissed, exacerbating the issue further.
The fan rage bee hive got super-kicked again this month when director David Yates admitted that The Crimes of Grindelwald (the second movie in the renewed saga) would not directly acknowledge Albus Dumbeldore’s homosexuality or the romantic relationship he had with Grindelwald before they found themselves on opposing sides of the magical conflict.
This was a double letdown for fans two reasons. The relationship between the two characters was considered central to the plot of the next four movies. The fact that the two were (and may still be) in love was a narrative pillar that anchored most of the story’s emotional drama. It could have been just as important as Luke and Darth Vader’s family tree. To ignore that was to ignore one of the stories most important emotional and dramatic conflicts. It also felt like an insult to the characters.
The second letdown was to Rowling’s substantial gay and gay positive fanbase. When Rowling declared years ago that Dumbeldore was gay, fans and activists rallied to her side when she became the target of homophobic assaults and the political far-right (Rush Limbaugh’s head almost exploded). Many gay fans felt validated while many other fans saw it as a long overdue step in a more progressive, more understanding direction. With a major pop culture character openly gay, progressives felt the world was grudgingly, reluctantly moving forward.
And gay youth had a important figure to embrace.
Needless to say, Rowling’s recent decision to put all of that on the back burner erases a lot of that good will.
Rowling has spent years championing racial, gender and sexuality equality. There has never been a fight she has shied away from and she has never hesitated to rush to the defence of someone who needed it. She has clashed with world leaders, political pundits and business leaders in the public arena, cheered on by legions of fans. Her recent actions come across not only as tone deaf, but hypocritical as well.
And this doesn’t just hurt her brand as an author, but as a social activist as well. How much weight does her opinion now hold when it appears she may be willing to rest on her ethical laurels when push comes to shove and her bottom line is involved?
And as for Warner Bros. would they not prefer an energized, engaged fanbase eager for the Fantastic Beasts films instead of a morally disappointed one? These films are expensive investments and require 500 million dollar plus grosses just to break even. And as we’ve seen, Warner has a lot riding on the films given how many other branches in their box office tree have withered. They can’t afford any of these films to face a fan backlash.
It may or may not be too late to address the Depp problem, but there’s plenty of time for Warner and, more importantly Rowling, to address some of the other concerns surrounding future Potterverse films. And in all honestly, both owe it to the fans of this franchise, whose faith and loyal devotion are just as responsible for making it the phenomenon it is as Rowling’s talent and vision.
Anything less is just another insult.