Here’s some news that will make you long for the days of underwhelming, “exclusively gay” moments in mainstream blockbusters: David Yates, who is directing the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, has revealed that Dumbledore’s sexuality will not be referenced in the new movie. Via Entertainment Weekly:
“Not explicitly,” Yates replied when asked if the film makes it clear that Dumbledore is gay. “But I think all the fans are aware of that. He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology and each other.”
The decision to keep Dumbledore in the closet is a puzzling one, and not just because it’s weirdly regressive that the only gay character in the Harry Potter universe is the one whose sexuality has not been established in the text. (Lord knows there are plenty of “explicitly” straight characters!) We only know Dumbledore is gay because J.K. Rowling has said so. She saved that revelation for after the entire Harry Potter series was published, explaining to a crowd at Carnegie Hall in October 2007 that the Hogwarts headmaster had fallen in love with the villainous Grindelwald in his youth, before learning that Grindelwald was basically a wizard-Nazi. The fact that Dumbledore is gay went completely unacknowledged in the seven main books and however the hell many movies we’re on now of the Harry Potter franchise, so we’d have no way of knowing if Rowling hadn’t made the announcement.
But that’s really nothing new, because at this point, we’re used to that kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge LGBTQ representation in big franchises, the kind that relies on subtext or, in this case, just taking the author’s word for it retroactively, rather than simply making it part of the canon in the first place. No, what’s truly weird about the Fantastic Beasts news is that even as Yates downplays a major character’s sexuality, his description of the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald when they were younger (“They fell in love with each other”) is possibly the most overt confirmation to date that Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindelwald were requited rather than one-sided. The Crimes of Grindelwald is set to take place years after the relationship soured, and according to the synopsis, Albus Dumbledore will be leading the charge to fight Grindelwald. If both of these things are true, then that means that this movie is essentially setting the stage for a showdown between two men who are ex-lovers. How on Earth do you make that movie without acknowledging that the two most important characters aren’t straight?
This isn’t just a disservice to LGBTQ fans—although it certainly is a disservice to LGBTQ fans—it’s also a disservice to the storytelling itself. If “all the fans are aware” that Dumbledore is gay already, as Yates says, then there’s really no point in withholding that information, since it would hardly be a big dramatic reveal later down the line in one of the three other sequels. And the prior romantic connection between Dumbledore and Grindelwald will obviously raise the stakes for when they do finally face off.