Back in 2007, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling made headlines when she revealed that she has always thought of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbeldore as gay, and that he had had a passionate love affair with the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in his younger days. Eleven years later, Warner Bros. is still afraid to make this plot point canon. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald director David Yates has confirmed that the upcoming sequel – starring Jude Law as Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald – will not be explicit about the fact that Dumbledore is gay.
“I think all the fans are aware of that,” was Yates’ somewhat feeble excuse for the decision to leave Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship unspoken-of. “He 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.” At a press conference two years prior, Rowling would only offer a “watch this space” comment when asked if the full details of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship would be featured in the movie franchise.
“Watch this space,” it seems, means that Dumbledore’s sexuality won’t be revealed in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but might come out (pun intended) in one of the three sequels planned after that. Unfortunately for Warner Bros., those three sequels were planned based on the assumption that Fantastic Beasts 2 would be a surefire hit, and that is not longer a safe assumption. Certainly Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them performed very well at the box office – with a global gross of $814 million – but, to use a particularly relevant example, the two recent Alice in Wonderland movies proved that audiences showing up in droves for the first film doesn’t guarantee the success of a second.
One of the biggest sticking points leading up to the release of Fantastic Beasts 2 has been the casting of Johnny Depp. Depp’s Grindelwald got off to a bad start in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as the character was played (in disguise) for the majority of the movie by Colin Farrell, who brought to the table an excellent performance filled with quiet menace. Needless to say, his transformation into yet another Johnny-Depp-with-a-silly-haircut character at the end of the movie wasn’t quite the celebratory moment that Warner Bros. had assumed it would be. This was compounded by the fact that, a few months prior to the movie’s release, Depp was embroiled in a legal battle over allegations of domestic violence from his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
All of this leaves Warner Bros. in a position where one of their biggest movies of the year prominently features an alleged abuser. Moreover, Fantastic Beasts 2‘s promotion will begin in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has seen some of Hollywood’s biggest players exposed and ousted following allegations of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct. Coupled with the fact that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has had little lasting impact, this PR problem could mean that Fantastic Beasts 2 will see a serious step down from the first movie at the box office. And while Warner Bros. might think that avoiding mention of Dumbledore’s sexuality is “playing it safe,” the move will likely do more harm than good.
Fundamentally, this reflects an outdated mentality – as does the casting Depp as the villain. Perhaps a decade ago including an explicitly gay Dumbledore would have been too much of a risk, and casting a gurning Johnny Depp as a peroxide-haired villain would have been a smart play. But it’s 2018. Even before the domestic violence allegations, Depp had been starring in a series of big-budget flops – The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows, Transcendence, and Alice Through the Looking Glass – which dented his reputation as a surefire box office draw. Last year Disney released a movie with a “gay” character, and that movie grossed more than $1.26 billion worldwide. And if any fandom is ready for a gay male lead, the Harry Potter fandom is ready.
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