By Poulomi Das
When the cast of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was announced, there was palpable excitement as there was widespread criticism. Jude Law was tasked with essaying the younger, dashing Albus Dumbledore, while Johnny Depp was to reprise his role as the evil magical criminal Gellert Grindelwald, months after he was accused of domestic violence. (Both J K Rowling and David Yates put out statements defending Depp’s casting. much to the displeasure of fans.)
This prequel to the Harry Potter spin-off intended to throw light on the formative years of the “troubled” Dumbledore before he became the wise headmaster of Hogwarts. Expectations were thus rife about the boundless possibilities at hand while exploring Dumbledore’s romantic life, since Rowling had revealed 10 years ago that Dumbledore was gay. At the time, the author had even alluded to Dumbledore’s young romance with Grindelwald, saying, “Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.”
Except, as it turns out, the joy of getting to see a gay lead in one of the most successful cinematic franchises will have to wait. The film’s director David Yates, recently went on record to claim that Dumbledore’s sexuality would in fact not make it to the film, further adding that he wouldn’t be “explicitly gay” in The Crimes of Grindelwald. If that wasn’t offensive enough, Yates also came up with a ridiculously laughable justification for the exclusion: “But I think all the fans are aware of that.”
No Mr Yates, we should not just be aware of that. Are we to forget the fact that, in a film about Dumbledore and his boyfriend, the two characters headlining it are lovers? That’s like making a film about Batman, but forgetting to cast him in it. Why is Dumbledore’s sexuality not important enough to be show on screen?Three Harry Potter spin-off films have come and gone but the only place the Hogwarts headmaster’s sexuality is “explicitly” mentioned, is in the world of Harry Potter fan fiction. Image credit: Warner Bros
Rowling has been teasing the prospect of seeing a gay Dumbledore onscreen for years. Three Harry Potter spin-off films have come and gone but the only place the Hogwarts headmaster’s sexuality is “explicitly” mentioned, is in the world of Harry Potter fan fiction. Now, at the fourth pass, when the time came to actually act on it, the author (who’s written the film’s script) has chosen to indulge in another round of teasing by saying that maybe Dumbledore’s sexuality would be addressed in the later films. At this point, Dumbledore’s sexuality looks like the cheque that Rowling had no intention on ever cashing.
The thing is that Rowling and Co’s unceremonious cop-out isn’t the first time Hollywood filmmakers have consciously squandered the opportunity to give their films a LGBT character in the truest sense. Of late, teasing the inclusion of LGBT characters or an exclusive “gay moment” before a film’s release, and then going back on the promise to either have blink-and-miss throwaway moments that are at odds with the plot or erasing their sexuality altogether have become a frustrating trend that most filmmakers have unfortunately embraced with open arms.
Take Taika Waititi’s immensely enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok for instance. The film made headlines days before its release when reports emerged that one of the film’s central characters, Valkryie, a traumatised Asgarian expat, would be bisexual. The excitement of finally seeing a badass bisexual character became further exemplified when Tessa Thompson, the actress playing Valkryie took it upon herself to confirm the news.
It was Thompson who had pitched the idea of Valkryie being bisexual to Waititi herself, wanting to stay true to Valkryie’s comic-book relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. Waititi had agreed, and the film was to have a scene that showed a woman leaving Valkryie’s bedroom. Except, her “coming out” scene got cut out of the final film despite considerable public hype, leaving audiences only with the assurance that the actress played Valkryie with her bisexuality in mind.
Apparently, the film couldn’t have spared an extra few seconds to make a pretty powerful point. To an ordinary viewer then, Valkryie’s sexuality would hardly cross their minds unless they went back and actually read up about it. It’s a sort of reductive representation that does no good for the standing of LGBT characters in big-budget Hollywood films. Instead, all it reeks of is a pseudo politically correct inclusiveness that’s conjured up with the sole intention of publicity.
Turns out, the Marvel franchise doesn’t only just sideline its major female heroes, but they also completely erase their queer ones.
If the comics are any evidence, Thor: Ragnarok should actually have had two more queer characters, apart from Valkryie. In an issue of The Incredible Hulk, Korg’s beloved was revealed to be the warrior Hiroim. In the comic, Loki is in fact gender-fluid. But, all it takes is one viewing of the film to confirm the invisibility of their sexual orientations. Turns out, the Marvel franchise doesn’t only just sideline its major female heroes, but they also completely erase their queer ones.
This half-assed “token” representation had found its way in films like Wonder Woman and Deadpool as well. While Greg Rucka, the writer of the Wonder Woman comics admitted that the character was queer and had “obviously” been with women, its cinematic universe however hardly acknowledged that crucial information. Similarly, Deadpool’s director Tim Miller went to town proclaiming that he wanted it on record that Deadpool was “pansexual”, except in the movie Deadpool’s “pansexual representation” was restricted to him acting like a frat boy smacking a man’s ass as a joke. It was sadly only reduced to being a prop utilised for comedic effect.
Even Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers, two films that made enough and more noise teasing storylines that involved exclusively gay moments and characters, thunderously under-delivered on their promise, resulting in throwaway sequences that felt as forced as it felt insulting. It’s incredibly saddening that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald seems to be heading down the same path, despite having an obvious gay liberation metaphor in its first film. To not have a LGBT character in a film is one thing, but to promise one and feed off its publicity and then completely erase their existence is even worse.
LGBT representation is undoubtedly a massive advantage for any film’s marketing and publicity division, but what will it take for Hollywood filmmakers to acknowledge the difference it can make on a film’s storyline as well? Diversity should not just be encouraged, but also embraced. I, for one, am so done with being teased and asked to interpret a character’s sexuality however I want to, instead of it being amply apparent in the film itself.
Featured image credits: Sushant Ahire/Arré
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