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JK Rowling and Harry Potter: Separating the Art from the Artist by Sophia Cheng

Illustration by Janet Liu

The Harry Potter book series is one of the most beloved and successful in modern society. It has broken barriers, spawned countless careers, and inspired an entire generation of readers to stand up to injustice and fight for good. So why have numbers in the famously expansive Potterhead fandom dwindled remarkably in the past year?

It all started one December day in 2019, when J.K. Rowling, the creator of it all, tweeted her opinion on the results of Maya Forstater’s legal case concerning transgender rights:

Her statement was widely perceived to be transphobic, and the sort of fierce backlash only Twitter is capable of ensued. Although it died down in a few weeks’ time, her infamous tweet was not forgotten by now-lukewarm fans. Fast-forward to June of this year, when Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece about menstruation and expressed her negative views on its omission of the word “woman.” At this, the vicious chain reaction that “canceled” celebrities are all too familiar with had officially begun. Contrary to the wishes of many hopeful onlookers, however, she has not released any sort of apology for her continuation of this harmful rhetoric that trans women are not real women.

So the question that loyal fans all over the globe, including myself, have been forced to answer since December is: are we still allowed to be fans even though we don’t support Rowling and her so-called morals? Is it ethical to support a franchise whose originator is a highly bigoted woman?

The answer may be hard to swallow, but I, and many others, have come to the conclusion that we simply cannot separate the art from the artist.

Harry Potter is, at its very core, rooted in its author’s prejudice and ignorance. It does not take a genius to see why Rita Skeeter, a female journalist who shape-shifts illegally to spy on children, is described as having ‘thick, manly hands’ and a ‘large square jaw’ or that Rowling’s extremely stereotypical depiction of the goblins that work at the wizarding bank is rooted in antisemitism.

In addition, the lazy characterization of the Patil twins and Cho Chang and their existence as basically the only notable characters of color is a huge red flag. If you choose to dig even deeper, you will find that the message Rowling seemingly preaches all throughout the series, that one’s heritage does not define who they are, is cancelled out by countless examples of the exact opposite. Far too many important plotlines are based on Harry’s extensive privilege -- his money, protection, and ownership of the Invisibility Cloak -- all passed down through his family tree. The list does not end here.

Harry Potter is a wonderful, captivating series; its characters and the choices they make are relatable and human, the world in which it is set is fascinating, and its themes of bravery and fighting fascism are all too relevant in this day and age. We as consumers, however, cannot escape the fact that the series is thoroughly drenched in the author’s awful bigotries. What we can do is recognize and stand up to them, just like Rowling taught us to.