Harry Potter: a staple in the starter pack on how to spot a millennial muggle, the film franchise that brought the fantasy genre back for children and adults alike, remains a mainstay in the festive season. 2021s holiday season is topping the previous yearly Potter marathons with a Harry Potter cast reunion anniversary special taking place on New Year’s Day. It’s been 20 years since the first film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone graced our screens and changed film fandoms forever.
Try not to feel too old though weary youngsters, even though nostalgia is everywhere and social media is catching on to remind us that we’re actually kind of old. The holidays are simply not complete, no matter how old you are, without bingeing the adventures of fresh faced Harry, Ron and Hermione as they traverse the world of dreaded dementors, deathly hallows and you know who.
According to a recent announcement, the special will be released on HBO Max. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is set to stream on 1 January 2022 in the US, with its UK air date and broadcaster yet to be confirmed. The feature will “tell an enchanting making-of story through all-new, in-depth interviews and cast conversations,” as mentioned in its teaser trailer. All eight Harry Potter films are already available to stream on the network.
With a new range of funky new Funko POP toys to mark the anniversary, the star-studded cast will be coming back to where it all began, at the home of Hogwarts (aka Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter). Celebrations appear to be in order as our Gryffindor trio are set to reunite on screen, along with Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets director Chris Columbus, ten years after the last film in the franchise—which was based on JK Rowling’s books and took in some $7.8 billion at the global box office—was released.
The tribute to the first film will debut with the premiere of the bracket-style quiz competition Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses on 28 November on both TBS and Cartoon Network, according to Variety. Oddly enough though, there seems to be no mention of the writer that made one of the greatest—and thankfully fictional—villains in history, Rowling. In fact, in all mention of this wonderful occasion, it’s only been revealed that the writer will not feature in the special at all. Hmm, we wonder why…
“It has been an incredible journey since the debut of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone film, and witnessing how it has evolved into this remarkable interconnected universe has been magical to say the least,” Warner Bros’ president of global kids, young adults and classics Tom Aschiem said in a statement.
“This retrospective is a tribute to everyone whose lives were touched by this cultural phenomenon—from the talented cast and crew who poured their heart and soul into this extraordinary film franchise to the passionate fans who continue to keep the Wizarding World spirit alive 20 years later,” Aschiem continued.
The special will bring back famous faces from all eight films with a discussion of the monumental Potter legacy. There are even talks of this nostalgic stroll down memory lane including never before seen clips and behind the scenes said to be part of the retrospective. Back in the boarding school sets, we will see our original darling leads Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, which is all the rage since the three have never reunited in an official capacity since the franchise ended in 2011.
Other fan favourites said to appear include the marvellous Bellatrix Lestrange herself (Helena Bonham Carter), shaggy-haired Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and the terrifying he who shall not be named (Ralph Fiennes). Other cavalry cast members on the list are Sirius Black’s Gary Oldman, Draco Malfoy’s Tom Felton, Dolores Umbridge’s Imelda Staunton and Neville Longbottom’s Matthew Lewis. Even the Weasleys—Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Mark Williams and Bonnie Wright—have managed to weasel their way into this grand get-together. On the sets are also the iconic (and my favourite character) Luna Lovegood played by Evanna Lynch and Dean Thomas played by Alfred Enoch. However, Rowling—the mind behind all of these characters—won’t be there.
Rowling isn’t set to make a personal appearance, which may make some of us jump for joy. While the best-selling author won’t be present in the reunion festivities, she is expected to feature in archival footage—alas, it seems we can’t get rid of her entirely as she did create Harry Potter in the end. Sources have told Hollywood Reporter that the special will focus on the creation of the film and the “central” team behind it. But, isn’t Rowling (unfortunately) part of that? Well, it seems Hollywood is finally taking a stand against transphobic comments, and not asking fans to push past their valid feelings against the writer for the sake of the franchise they oh-so-dearly know and love. About damn time.
I think it’s pretty obvious why Rowling is going to be a no-show at this celebratory special. Her absence is a result of many controversies surrounding her views on gender identity and comments she has previously made about the transgender community. All of which sparked rightful backlash from fans and even the film’s cast members. Rowling’s transphobia is not just poorly worded Twitter musings either, they were deliberate and insulting. The writer did even more damage by knuckling under in a series of tweets—one read: “It isn’t hate to speak the truth”—to defend her horrible points against the trans community.
This debacle included Rowling taking a stance on the definition of what it means to be a woman, particularly relating to menstruation, tweeting that she had issues with the phrase ‘people who menstruate’. When the writer came under fire for her comments on sexuality, she didn’t back down, stating, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”
She kept digging her hole deeper by continuing, “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—ie, to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is nonsense.”
Rowling has stated that she “respects every trans person’s right to live in a way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” but added that it’s not “hateful” for her to discuss that her life “has been shaped by being female.” In further defence of her harmful tweets, she released an essay in 2020, where she stated that her trans issues stemmed from being a survivor of abuse, which gave her concerns about single sex spaces. Still way too hung up on other people’s bodily functions, Rowling shared the article online and wrote, “‘People who menstruate’. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Numerous outlets like The Cut, Glamour and Deadline have since dissected this piece and the willfully ignorant transphobia it continues to push.
“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces,” Rowling wrote.
Radcliffe was among the first to slam Rowling’s vocabulary choices in an article for The Trevor Project. In response to her tweets he said that “transgender women are women.” The actor gave a heartfelt apology to those whose experiences with the Harry Potter books were tarnished by Rowling’s words. Watson—UN Women Goodwill Ambassador—wrote a series of tweets to her 29.1 million Twitter followers quickly after Rowling came under fire: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.” Grint joined his fellow castmates by choosing to release his own statement on the furore in 2020, where he stated: “I firmly stand with the trans community.” He went on to tell The Times: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.” In a separate interview with the publication, he also addressed why he waited so long to stand up against Rowling’s hate speech.
Regardless of Rowling’s controversial commentary, this train to Hogwarts is chugging on without her. The TV special is one of several 20th anniversary events planned by Warner Bros, including a TV quiz contest for Potter fans hosted by Helen Mirren. “The excitement is palpable as they prepare to take their fans on a very special and personal journey, through the making of these incredible films,” Ascheim stated about the upcoming celebration.
So dust off your wands and grab your capes because the wizarding world we missed so much is opening its doors for fun all round, and luckily, without JK Rowling trailing right behind.
Last week, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) removed work from its shop by artist Jess de Wahls after receiving multiple complaints about transphobia. The arguments and debates around this single example are a microcosm of the ongoing culture war, not just tolerated but stoked by our government: trans rights, cancel culture, no-platforming. Acronyms abound: TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), GCs (gender critical people), TRAs (trans rights activists).
De Wahls wrote a blog post almost two years ago entitled, rather cynically, “Somewhere over the Rainbow, something went terribly wrong…” It’s not worth reading, filled with disinformation, misinformation, and transphobic dog whistles. It has all the buzzwords and stock phrases of such gender-critical writings: there is little to no original critical thought involved.
De Wahls—who isn’t an academician and, thus, has no permanent relationship with the RA—has received a lot of press in the past week from the usual sources such as citations in columns in The Sunday Times and The Telegraph. It’s the paradox of cancellation: having one’s work ‘cancelled’ elevates their status among certain right-leaning, ‘anti-woke’ commentators. The Daily Mail and, far too often, BBC Radio 4 will jump on board and uncritically give out a platform for sharing and elevating opinions.
The Royal Academy, in the minds of many, immediately became a traitor to women’s rights where previously it had been considered a bastion, when, in fact, the art world is notoriously conservative. It wasn’t until 1922 that the first woman was elected to the Royal Academy—although there were two women among the founding members, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser. And the current President, Rebecca Salter, became the first woman elected to the role in 250 years. It’s just that, now, they have been deemed the wrong kind of conservative—kowtowing to the ‘woke mob’ who are, more often than not, campaigning for progressive inclusion.
Many anonymous Twitter users have pointed out that the RA is happy to still sell work by Picasso, a notorious misogynist. That’s a difficult thread to pull at, though—especially when many at The Telegraph, for example, don’t want Western history and its statues to be threatened or interrogated. Accusing an institution of misogyny as part of this ongoing culture war, while scapegoating the trans community, is much easier than actually addressing the complex mechanisms and legacies of exclusion, racism, and misogyny that permeate so much of our society.
Free speech, and the free market—both core principles of liberalism—apparently have their limits; they apply differently to individuals and to institutions, or so it would seem. Artists should be allowed to say publicly whatever they like, without repercussions; yet if galleries want to distance themselves, they cannot be allowed to.
I found de Wahls on Instagram, where she had posted work by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist collective that raises awareness about the lack of diversity and representation in the art world. After pointing out that the collective not only supports but includes trans women and non-binary people—“we’ve had transgender and gender-nonconforming members since the beginning”—she swiftly blocked me. It seems that there are limits to the discussion and debate that many people claim are being shut down.
There are occasions to debate with people who have different opinions—and there are times when this is, at best, uncomfortable and unproductive or, at worst, profoundly dehumanising. This was on the tip of many tongues this past week after writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published on her website an essay on cancel culture and trans rights. It was praised by many on the right, but I recommend reading, instead, Aja Romano’s astute and sensitive analysis of the piece.
Anyone who wants to hijack the extension of rights for trans people—for misogyny and violence—is an enemy to us all. There’s no secret organisation funding trans rights internationally, it’s strange how often this conspiracy theory pops up on Twitter.
Prominent gender-critical activists have recently been emboldened by a tribunal that declared their beliefs to be “protected” within English law—many anonymous accounts are now dedicating their lives and livelihoods to opposing trans rights under the guise of feminism. Recently, I attended a talk by a prominent lesbian feminist and activist who noted how in America, progressives and activists look at what’s happening in the UK, aghast. These supposedly liberal groups have the most in common with the furthest-right, Trump-supporting facets of the Republican Party.
Because there are some who ultimately want to use free speech and open debate to restrict the rights of trans people—and then all queer people, and then all women. Prominent gender-critical groups have aligned themselves with pro-life, pro-abortion groups in the US. Their common ground? Wanting to control the bodies of the marginalised.
De Wahls ends her rant by asking, “who really benefits from an imploding liberal and feminist movement?” Whenever people insist on debating the human rights of the most marginalised in society, there are no winners, just a perpetuation of our ongoing, unfair patriarchal hegemony.