I’ve often thought that a candid fly-on-the-wall documentary about the production of the Harry Potter films would be considerably more entertaining than any of the lackluster pictures themselves (Alfonso Cuaron’s excellent Prisoner of Azkaban duly excepted). Alan Rickman’s recent diaries suggest that the sets were unhappy, frantic places where actors were seldom allowed to create memorable characters and where the focus on the juvenile performers meant that one of the finest British ensemble casts ever assembled often functioned as little more than expensive set-dressing.
Yet more than a decade after the final film, the actors continue to command headlines, some of which is thanks to Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling’s views on the trans issue. After Rowling first established herself as “queen TERF” in 2020, the opinions of the Harry Potter films’ actors have been eagerly sought. Daniel Radcliffe wrote, “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.” Emma Watson pointedly tweeted, “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.”
Those more interested in what the more established thespians might have to say have had quite a wait. Although the late Robbie Coltrane stated in 2020 that “I don’t think what she said was offensive really. I don’t know why but there’s a whole Twitter generation of people who hang around waiting to be offended,” he also backed down almost immediately, saying, “I don’t want to get involved in all of that because of all the hate mail and all that shit, which I don’t need at my time of life.” (Sure enough, after Coltrane’s death in October this year, trans rights activists delighted in his demise, tweeting, “Don’t let Robbie Coltrane’s death make you forget that he was transphobic and supported JK Rowling.”)
However, this year, there has been a sea change. It began with Ralph Fiennes, who plays the villainous Lord Voldermort in the films. Fiennes stated in an October New York Times interview, “The verbal abuse directed at [Rowling] is disgusting, it’s appalling” and “I mean, I can understand a viewpoint that might be angry at what she says about women. But it’s not some obscene, uber-right-wing fascist. It’s just a woman saying, ‘I’m a woman and I feel I’m a woman and I want to be able to say that I’m a woman.’ And I understand where she’s coming from. Even though I’m not a woman.”
His remarks caused mild outcry. But then Helena Bonham Carter — the antagonist Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter — suggested in an interview with the London Sunday Times last weekend that what Rowling had been through was “horrendous, a load of bollocks,” and that the author had been “hounded.” Bonham Carter added, “It’s been taken to the extreme, the judgmentalism of people. She’s allowed her opinion, particularly if she’s suffered abuse. Everybody carries their own history of trauma and forms their opinions from that trauma and you have to respect where people come from and their pain. You don’t all have to agree on everything — that would be insane and boring. She’s not meaning it aggressively, she’s just saying something out of her own experience.” For good measure, she also supported her friend, the ever-controversial Johnny Depp, describing him as “completely vindicated” and “totally fine.”
Bonham Carter suggested that the likes of Radcliffe and Watson had kowtowed to public pressure, or, as she put it, “Personally I feel they should let her have her opinions, but I think they’re very aware of protecting their own fanbase and their generation.” This would seem to be the undeniable truth. A generational gap has opened up between the younger Harry Potter actors and the older ones, who now seem quite open in their efforts to defend her. (The youthful exception is Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton, who pointedly stated, “I enjoy reminding myself and others that a lot of my good friends have ways of life or personal decisions that I don’t necessarily agree with. We should enjoy celebrating each other’s differences.”)
It is unlikely that Rowling, who has publicly doubled and trebled down on her views, will ever cease to be abused by trans rights activists. Whatever the merits and drawbacks of her opinions, it is worth remembering that her detractors and defenders alike are high-profile public figures whose remarks about her continue to produce opinion pieces such as this one, and every time someone puts their head over the parapet, the story continues to run. Only someone blessed with the power of second sight would bet against this saga lasting just as long as the Harry Potter series, and with just as iconic a protagonist.