Without the gay love story, Fantastic Beasts makes even less sense

The plot of the new movie is confusing enough if you know Dumbledore and Grindelwald were lovers; pity the audience in China for whom this detail is censored

• Warning: this piece contains spoilers

Harry Potter, and JK Rowling’s wider Wizarding World, are incredibly popular in China. So much so that the nation’s Ministry of Education added the tales of Harry, Ron and Hermione’s schooldays to an official list of recommended reading for primary and secondary school students in 2017. The first two Fantastic Beasts movies made more than £100m at the Chinese box office, and new episode, Secrets of Dumbledore, is also expected to perform well there.

But when Chinese audiences sit down to find out what it is the heroic Hogwarts headmaster has been keeping to himself, they may find themselves wondering if they’ve been targeted with one of Potter’s famed Confundus charms. For censors have reportedly made the decision to cut all gay references from the movie. These include a line in which Jude Law’s Dumbledore tells evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) he once went along with his dastardly plans “because I was in love with you”, and another reference to “the summer Gellert and I fell in love”.

Rowling has long been keen to let the world know Dumbledore is gay, revealing this detail in 2007 to widespread joy among her readers. Looking back, the revelation seems to have come from another time: one in which Rowling was seen as a paragon of liberal decency and phrases such as “virtue signalling” and “woke” had barely entered the lexicon. However much public perception of her has changed in the meantime, it is clear the author had a good idea of how Dumbledore’s backstory would play out, even before she killed him off in the Potter books.

“Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was,” Rowling told an audience during a US tour in 2007. “To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more, because falling in love can blind us to an extent, but he met someone as brilliant as he was and, rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down.”

This is essentially the set-up of Secrets of Dumbledore, and (spoilers alert) it leads to a confusing situation in which Dumbledore is unable to stymie Grindelwald’s efforts to begin a war between the wizarding world and unwitting Muggles, even though he really, really wants to, due to a blood pact the two sorcerers made in their youth. Instead, the headmaster asks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and assorted wizards and witches (along with Muggle Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler) to do it for him – except none of them are able to know what the full plan is because Jacob’s ex, Queenie (a legilimens, or mind-reader), has gone over to the dark side and would expose them all to Grindelwald if they did.

It is all horrendously confusing, even if you do know that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were once lovers. Without that essential titbit, it is going to make no sense at all. Which is a great pity for those in China, because Secrets of Dumbledore is a half-decent yarn, which very nearly gets the Wizarding World movies back on track after the half-cocked Crimes of Grindelwald.

It’s certainly not the first time China’s censors have baffled audiences. In February, the Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video was forced to restore the original ending to Fight Club after a backlash prompted by an amended Chinese edition in which it was stated at the film’s denouement that police had “rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals”. In 2018, censors banned the release of Christopher Robin outright, because of the way the portly bear of very little brain Winnie-the-Pooh has been compared to the nation’s president, Xi Jinping.

Warner Bros insists that, despite the cuts to Secrets of Grindelwald, “the spirit of the film remains intact”. Apparently, while dialogue has been removed, there are still references to the wizardly pair sharing a close youthful bond.

In other words, Dumbledore has been placed firmly back in his closet. And really, what is the point of going to see a movie about secrets, if the only really interesting one remains locked in a vault tougher than Gringotts’?


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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