Does The Wizarding World Have Religions?
For the majority of both the Harry Potter books and films, religion is not mentioned; Hogwarts has no religious services and with the exception of the churchyard in Godric's Hollow (which presumably means that the wizarding families buried there are some denomination of Christian), there are no religious buildings in the series either. Christmas is celebrated, but with a somewhat secular bent (and plenty of people who are not Christian do celebrate Christmas in some form). All in all, it seems that the wizarding world isn't a particularly religious one.
However, much the same way that Rowling outed Dumbledore after his role in the books and films was finished, the author has also retroactively added religious wizards to the Harry Potter universe. In a tweet response to a fan asking about Jewish wizards, Rowling named Anthony Goldstein as a Jewish wizard in Ravenclaw, and then continued to say that he is not the only one. It can also be assumed that the Patil sisters are Hindu, as Parvati is named after a Hindu goddess, but this is not specifically confirmed.
Rowling has also said that Hogwarts is a 'multifaith' school, although she does not see any Wiccans there (something that many Wiccans have taken offense at, unsurprisingly), and has not specifically mentioned any other religious groups. The film also does not show any witches wearing headcoverings, nor any witches or wizards observing fasts or prayer times. Yet again, it seems that Rowling claims there is diversity here, but will not show it.
Is Rowling Really A Champion Of Diversity?
Rowling has always been the recipient of a lot of fan goodwill, and has often been celebrated for championing diversity in interviews. However, this doesn't seem to translate to her actual works, which (as we have explored) are overwhelmingly filled with white, straight, and Christian characters. It seems that while Rowling continues to retroactively include minorities in her world, this is done with a very casual approach - one that has led to some wondering if it is just to placate her fans.
She seems to have an attitude that does not actively exclude anyone, but that simply doesn't see the important of actively including minorities. Her comments when outing Dumbledore were "I would have told you earlier if I had known it would make you so happy", which do suggest that she had always assumed him to be gay but that she doesn't understand how important it is to the LGBTQ community to have that stated outright, not just implied.
Harry Potter Needs Diversity To Be Fantastic
The big problem here is that at this point in time, it's no longer enough to simply acknowledge that minority characters are in a franchise after the fact, or to allow fans to "assume" that they are present. The original Harry Potter series, being written in the '90s and '00s, can be allowed a certain amount of leeway. The active inclusion of strong female characters, of hints at LGBTQ characters and several romantic leads that were PoC was relatively progressive at that point, and the overall message of the franchise (of bravery, inclusivity, and one heckuva metaphor for coming out of the closet) is still one that is needed today.
However, for the new films, the bar is simply higher. Fans are no longer comfortable with the idea that a character who is confirmed to be gay will only get to be "explicitly" gay in some future instalment (especially when there are multiple straight romantic pairings in every film). Retroactively waving a hand to allow for minority characters is not enough for Rowling to continue to consider herself a champion of diversity. This new franchise is a perfect vehicle to be truly inclusive (especially with the history of Ilvermony and Native American magic - another area where Rowling has already been criticized), but it needs to step up and become more actively supportive of minorities.
Fans shouldn't be shocked that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald continues Harry Potter's legacy of ignoring diverse representation, but that doesn't meant that this should continue. It's time to see Harry Potter come into the present, even while exploring the wizarding world of the past.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald/Fantastic Beasts 2 (2018) release date: Nov 16, 2018