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J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans meltdown might’ve began years ago now, but the fallout continues to this day—just this month, two U.S.-based quidditch leagues announced their plan to change their names in an effort to distance the sport from the Harry Potter creator.
But in light of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone film adaptation’s 20th anniversary this November, some kind of celebratory event was inevitable. On New Year’s Day, HBO Max will unveil Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. How will the streamer’s latest reunion special address the big, bigoted elephant missing from the room? Will it dare to mention She Who Must Not Be Named at all?
HBO Max has not provided The Daily Beast with a screener of the reunion, but according to The Hollywood Reporter, Rowling will appear only through archival footage. Sources told the magazine that the reunion will focus on the film’s creation, cast, and team.
Rowling’s second act as a figurehead for bigotry began in earnest back in 2019, when she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater—a British researcher who’d been fired for her anti-trans remarks, which included telling a colleague she didn’t believe anyone should have to “play along with literal delusions like ‘transwomen are women.’”
“Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote at the time. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
Over the years, Rowling has increasingly co-opted the language of feminism to disguise anti-trans dogwhistles. Beyond the shoddy “sex is real” argument, the author has repeatedly framed her bigotry as concern for women’s safety—an insidious narrative that’s become popular among trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFS).
In a lengthy screed published last year, Rowling proclaimed herself an expert on the subject of trans people after reading “sundry” books and supposedly consulting several unnamed trans people. At one point, she compared the online criticism her remarks had received in the past to actual acts of violence against women.
As I wrote at the time: “Despite her claim that she cares about trans people, her post still frames the community and its advocates as a direct threat to cis women. It paints trans women as aggressors, as invaders to female spaces, and plays into the exact trope transphobes have used for years to justify their abuse.”
Further complicating matters was the fact that Rowling had previously positioned herself as an advocate for gay rights. (Never mind that her books included no explicitly gay characters—or that even after she extra-textually clarified after the final book’s release that Dumbledore was, in fact, gay, the Fantastic Beasts prequel films have waffled so far when it comes to letting him be gay on screen.) For someone who’s managed to expand their multi-billion dollar fortune at least in part by courting the queer community, Rowling sure doesn’t seem to feel she owes us much in return.
In the years since Rowling began spouting anti-trans bile publicly, fans have been forced to re-evaluate their relationship with the franchise—and reimagine what the fandom could look like going forward, as it distances itself from the woman who created Hogwarts. Since last year, several Harry Potter stars have come forward to disavow Rowling’s remarks—beginning with Daniel Radcliffe, who issued his response through the LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project.
“Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe wrote. “Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”
“If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life—then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred,” Radcliffe added.
Additional actors who’ve come forward with their own statements include Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Eddie Redmayne, along with additional cast members from various Potter films and theater productions.
Watson, Grint, and Radcliffe are all obviously on board to participate in the reunion special. While their choice to disavow Rowling’s remarks shouldn’t necessarily preclude their involvement, it’s hard to imagine the event promoting Rowling’s creation with no regard for the real-world damage she now continues to foster.
Based on HBO Max’s prior reunion specials, there’s a chance that this reunion special might confront the real-life controversy directly—and there’s also reason to believe it might avoid the issue entirely.
Last fall, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast gathered for a nostalgic get-together of their own. The reunion featured plenty of reminiscing and saw the cast mourning the late James Avery—who played Uncle Phil with unforgettable wit and empathy. But its centerpiece was a candid reconciliation between Will Smith and Janet Hubert, the show’s original Aunt Viv who left under notoriously tumultuous circumstances.
An earnest conversation between estranged former co-stars about their personal differences is certainly not a direct analogue to discussing transphobia, which affects millions each day. But the Fresh Prince special does demonstrate that these retrospectives can at least address some of the more unsavory anecdotes from a given cultural product’s history. That’s more than we can say for HBO Max’s disastrously anodyne Friends reunion, which declined to discuss any of the show’s shortcomings—or Matthew Perry’s struggles with addiction while making the show—at any length.
As streamers continue to proliferate with hare-like speed, cast reunions and “events” like these seem bound to multiply as well. It’s entirely possible (and probably even likely) that most will go the Friends route and choose feverish reverence over critical perspective or emotional insight. But obsessives and franchise skeptics alike will always benefit more from projects that actually engage with the thorny issues than they will from glorified marketing.
Most if not all of the Harry Potter cast, creators, and “team” that we’ll see in HBO Max’s reunion have already made their fortunes—and their statements about J.K. Rowling. This special will reveal whether any of them are really ready to put their money where their mouths are and have a real, live conversation about it.