Harry Potter cancelled? The play that survived its creator's banishment
I recently went to New York City and saw the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, along with the large Harry Potter shop on 23rd street that was full of trinkets from that imaginary world. A lot has changed since the first Harry Potter book was published in 1997. I and millions of others read all seven Potter books and saw all the movie adaptations, totally engrossed in this fantasy world. The Harry Potter stories had a theme of love, courage, and acceptance in a world of magic and danger. It was a feel-good world that people all around the world could share in.
But then in 2020 something changed. Author J.K. Rowling, who invented that world and wrote all the books, took to social media in a bizarre crusade that still has many scratching their heads. Rowling began expressing grave concern about transgender people, saying in effect that those who were wishing to transition to the opposite gender were wrong or misguided. Biology is destiny and women, especially, should relish their femininity and avoid any thoughts of becoming male.
Had she made these comments thirty or more years ago, nothing would have come of them, as the dominant view then was that transgender people were mentally ill and shouldn't be accommodated in their desire to transition. But she made those remarks in 2020, at a time when LGBT values were peaking and changing rapidly. What was once feared was now considered a mistake of nature and easily fixed by medical science. Rowling faced fierce backlash for her views, doubling down and escalating the conflicts as she went. (Her latest book, The Ink Black Heart, has been panned as a lengthy victim-hood statement striking back at all of her haters.)
I have a hard time understanding why this was such an important thing for her to risk everything for, given all the other ills that befall the world. Why go after the trans community? If you want to read her reasons for yourself, here they are. The result of this crusade of hers has been interesting. In effect, Harry Potter as a franchise has survived, while Ms. Rowling has been sequestered in a virtual Azkaban Prison. She was left out of the 20th anniversary celebration television special that recently aired, and many of the cast members have disowned her views on trans people.
Here is what Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, had to say:
"While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment. Transgender women are women. 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. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm."
I thought about all this while deciding if Rowling's views negated her works and made my seeing the play on Broadway problematical. That got me to thinking about cancel culture in general. People, especially rich, famous, and powerful people, are very complex. Many of the people whose works I have supported undoubtedly have had problematical behaviors and unpopular opinions. Many of history's leaders and statesmen- Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, JFK, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, had dark parts of their story that negate some of the good that they were known for.
The past doesn't change, but history (and out interpretation of it) does. Our values as a society change, and that's been a good thing so far. Oppression from the past against African Americans, women, native Americans, LGBT Americans and nature itself have been exposed and we now look at history through a different lens. What was once acceptable behavior is now seen as wrong. That's good! It's the basis of cancel culture, which is fine as long as it lifts us to a better life. It is possible to over-react to controversial actions and statements, which means we have to be very deliberate and conscientious in calling out bad behavior. Supercharged opinions dominate on social media, and great care needs to be taken not to punish people unfairly for speaking their truths.
I still enjoy Michael Jackson music, even though it certainly looks like he was a pedophile and all-around messed up young man. I loved Bill Cosby's stand-up comedy albums and 80's tv show, but now that's complicated by believable allegations of drugging and abusing women. The Naked Gun movies were some of my favorite comedies ever, and I still watch them even though O.J. Simpson is one of the stars. And I love Woody Allen's funny and serious movies despite the controversy surrounding his relationship with Mia Farrow and her children. Talent and genius are complicated things, and they don't always emerge from the most admirable people in the world. We treat our celebrities like gods, and the fame and attention that comes from being in the spotlight can do strange things to people. Perhaps the celebrity bubble became too much for Ms. Rowling.
J.K. Rowling came from poverty and made billions. Her story was inspiring. She has supports many charities including her Lumos Foundation, which tries to shut down orphanages and place those children in safer and more loving homes with real families. The fact that she has clung to her anti-trans crusade while alienating fans and friends is perplexing. But she's entirely entitled to her opinions, as are trans people. Her story seems tragic and sad now, but I'm glad that the franchise has survived, even if alienated from its creator. My hope is that someday Rowling will reconcile with her haters and come to a better understanding of those who are different, which is very much a big theme of her books.
FYI- here is my brief review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for those of you willing to travel to the few cities that have it. (New York and San Francisco are currently the only US cities.)
This play takes place years after then end of the last book, and it focuses on Harry's son Albus and his difficulties measuring up to his famous dad. Harry, it turns out, is not such a great dad, and Albus turns to only friend he can relate to- Scorpius Malfoy, (Draco's son) Scorpius is the best thing about the play, and he plays the eager, awkward teen that Draco never was, playing a delightful second banana to the sad Albus. The 3.5 hour play (at first presented as two separate ticketed shows on Broadway) centers on Cedric Diggory's father's desires to see his son Cedric alive again, and Albus's awkward attempts to go back in time to change history and bring Cedric back.
They use the time turner, a device only seen in the fourth book, and the story becomes another look at how trying to change time can have disastrous unforeseen consequences. The magical special effects were spectacular as the play uses tricks of lighting and darkness to make this world real and believable. Ron and Hermoine make appearances as grown-ups, as do favorite characters like Umbridge, McGonigal, Dumbledore, Snape, and Voldemort, but the story revolves around Albus, Scorpius, and a strange new character, Delphi- a young woman who befriends the pair and figures mightily in the conclusion.
I loved the play, though I'm not sure if someone not familiar with the books would feel the same way. It was written mostly by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, with help from J.K. Rowling, and remains true to the source material. It survived Covid, which did in a lot of Broadway productions, and looks like it will run there for many years, regardless of what Rowling decides to do. The sets and magical effects may be too hard to travel nationwide, so see it when and where you can, unless it gets cancelled of course.