How Lazy Writing Can Recreate Oppression
*WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Since the reboot of Pottermore, there have been many critiques following the initial excitement of the site no longer reliant on gameplay. It’s encyclopedic/BuzzFeed-like format makes the site much more accessible and allows people easy access to backstories for beloved characters and interesting tidbits on world-building aspects of the books in addition to the new exclusive content written by J.K. Rowling herself. While this initially seemed like a “what could go wrong?” scenario, things very quickly began to go wrong with the stories/movie advertisements that were History of Magic in North America. It was very easy to see the blatant, though presumably unintentional, racism in the series, which was recently heightened even more with the short story on the American Wizarding School Ilvermorny. With the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which wasn’t written by Rowling but approved by her, it seems that a much bigger issue (for the Wizarding World) is at play.
The thing that has been the most frustrating about the latest installations of the Wizarding World is the lazy writing. We know that these installations are only coming out as a way to sell Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but as Potterheads, we are willing to read anything Rowling puts out about the world of Harry Potter. While Rowling and other affiliates always express surprise at the huge turnout for anything she produces, we must remember that Harry Potter has been out for almost 20 years at this point -- not only were the books so popular that they were adapted into movies, but there are 3 amusement parks, a studio tour, non-profit organizations, and millions of pieces of fan fiction attached to this world. There’s no way Rowling doesn’t know the impact she has, not at this point.
The problem is that when you know you already have a built in audience, it’s easy to milk it. And it’s clear with both the recent Pottermore installations and with Cursed Child that that’s what’s happening. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with these stories is the lazy writing, which creates spaces and holes that end up recreating racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.
Rather than exploring new themes or even adding nuance to themes already explored in the original Potter series, Rowling and her affiliates have instead relied more on nostalgia to tell the new stories rather than originality. Instead of researching the vast and complicated history of the United States and connecting that to her Pottermore stories and the founding of Ilvermorny, Rowling did some cursory web searching of Native Americans and took random pieces from different tribes to make it seem as if the American Wizarding World was influenced by Native American people. In the same breath, she somehow ignored one of the largest events in American history, chattel slavery. Instead of doing actual research, she essentially copied and pasted Hogwarts into the U.S. as if it and the history of the U.K. were comparable. And she did this all with “magical” commercials meant to tug at our Potterhead heartstrings to get us to not only read the stories but get excited for Fantastic Beasts. Not only is this exploitative, but it also creates space for oppression to be sustained and recreated. The Magic in North America and Ilvermorny stories specifically were racist in their misuse of Native American tribes’ cultures and in their erasure of black American history.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was written in a similar vein, relying heavily on the nostalgia of Potterheads to trot around a story that wasn’t only unnecessary, but at sometimes bordered on sexist. The play was trying hard to make us sad based on our love and familiarity with these characters. The centralizing of Cedric Diggory aside, there was an entire story arc that essentially boiled down to “what if Ron and Hermione never got together?”
While it was a small part of the play, I was definitely side-eying it as I watched. While there may be worse infractions in the play than trying to turn Hermione in Snape 2.0, it’s indicative of the lazy storytelling that comes up throughout the entire play. For the sake of plot, they disregarded Hermione’s entire characterization, instead making her character one defined by this one moment - her marriage to Ron Weasley. Rather than creating an original alternate Hermione that was still consistent with her character, they went back to old tropes that have already been used in Potter, in this case the “spurned” lover (I put it in quotes because you all know how I feel about Snape and his infatuation with Lily). Without Ron, Hermione in the Cursed Child becomes an abusive, bitter shrew, who apparently was no longer smart or ambitious enough to go into a job she actually cared about. In her whole life, Hermione never expressed the desire to teach at Hogwarts. Why, now that she’s not with Ron, would that be where she ended up? And even ignoring her actual character traits (which the writers did), it still in no way makes sense for them to give Hermione a Snape-like storyline because there are so many factors into Snape becoming who he was, other than his relationship with Lily. Hermione wasn’t dabbling in the Dark Arts and running around calling people Mudblood, nor was she “bullied” by Padma Patil. She barely even knew Padma. The abusive and bitter woman who was portrayed was both sexist and disrespectful to the character of Hermione.
The release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought out the midnight release partying, speed-reading Potter generation, and Robyn and I flew all the way to London just to see it. I have no doubt the release of Fantastic Beasts will spurn just as enthusiastic of a turn out. However, with the lazy writing of the most recent installations of the Wizarding World and the obvious manipulation into emotion, it’s all starting to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. In some ways I feel like I’m being used - Rowling and her affiliates know that they will get my, and plenty of other Potterheads, money just by saying the words “Harry Potter.” However, when the writing doesn’t give me the same feeling that put me and my wallet at Rowling’s mercy in the first place, when it instead recreates and furthers my oppression as a woman of color, it’s frustrating and makes me dread the expansion of the Wizarding World.