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How do you navigate art you loved when your politics evolve?

While the Twilight saga has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity despite its problematic subplots, can the Harry Potter universe survive J.K. Rowling's transphobia?
Thu, Jun 03, 2021

There's a TikTok trend that asks: "You've been kidnapped. Two hours later your kidnapper returns you because you don't stop talking about what?" I've debated setting up my camera and responding because I know what would make my hypothetical captors come to a screeching halt on the highway and toss me out of their van: The Twilight Saga.

I can go on for ages about Twilight. I know the ins and outs of the paranormal vampire romance because it is the YA series that radicalised me.

Let me explain.

When the first Twilight film premiered in 2008, I was a 17-year-old with too much time on her hands. After watching it in a crowded cinema, its edge and angst (which I attribute to director Catherine Hardwicke) won me over. I became obsessed with Edward Cullen and Bella Swan's tumultuous relationship, and the subsequent drama of the couple's love triangle with werewolf Jacob Black.

I read and re-read the books and found myself on online forums discussing the story's lore with other 'Twihearts' before the sting of racism eventually drove me out of the fandom. After that, I began curating my tastes, seeking media that centred black experiences in fantasy and sci-fi.

Before long, I was calling myself an Afrofuturist, advocating for more inclusive media and safe-spaces for black people in alternative subcultures.

See? Radical.

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Nowadays, the Twilight Saga is considered a modern cinematic atrocity. A lot of vitriol the films receive stem from the rather misogynistic hatred most people have for anything popularised by teenage girls instead of the actual issues the franchise has.

Here's a short list of said issues – the tip of the iceberg, if you will: stalking, grooming, implied paedophilia, anti-abortion, abstinence propaganda, racism and the misrepresentation and appropriation of Native-American folklore and mythology.

During lockdown, the Twilight franchise has experienced a sort of renaissance and with that, renewed Twitter discourse.

What's been interesting about Twilight's second coming and the resulting conversations though has been the revised perspective with which newer fans and Twilight veterans have engaged with the content. I think a huge part of the reason people have been drawn back to the series is because as a collective we realise, we can't possibly take a sparkling vampire giving the love of his life a piggy back ride through an evergreen forest seriously.

Twilight remains a comfort for me to some extent. If I'm ever in the mood for something particularly cringey, I'll probably put on Twilight and draft a few tweets about how ridiculous the whole thing is. There's an awareness of the problems the series has that somehow makes watching it fun.

Now, about Harry Potter

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You can't really discuss Harry Potter in 2021 without considering the source, J.K. Rowling.

While one can attempt to reconcile with the problematic elements of the series (fatphobia, misogyny, attempts at retroactive inclusivity) one cannot simply overlook the dumpster fire that is Rowling's Twitter account.

In June of 2020, Rowling doubled down on her series of transphobic tweets by publishing an essay on her website confirming what a lot of transgender and non-binary activists had been pointing out for years, that J.K. Rowling was indeed, a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

I remember watching my favourite of the eight films, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and ugly crying into the palms of my hands when Harry finally got the Patronus Charm right. There was something resilient about him yelling "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" at the top of his lungs while fighting off a swarm of dementors that just touched my heart.

So, as a non-binary fan of the series, this revelation that Rowling was relentlessly anti-trans was particularly gut-wrenching because for over two decades, the franchise and the resulting fandom had been a safe-space for me and countless other queer, trans and non-binary youth who, much like the story's main characters, had spent many years at the receiving end of harm and abuse simply because of who we were.

So, how does one engage with the epic story of an orphaned boy navigating a magical world filled with mythical creatures, dark wizards and an overly complicated wizarding sport called Quidditch now that we know what we know?

I don't know… because unlike the Twilight Saga, the issue with the Harry Potter series isn't necessarily with the content but with the creator of said content. J.K. Rowling's bigoted views have a devastatingly harmful impact on the work trans activists have done because she has an enormous platform and a great amount of influence.

While some fans have completely divested from the series, others choose to compartmentalise and separate the art from the artist.

Following Rowling's statements, several stars of the franchise and its spinoffs spoke out against the author. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) went on to tell fans: "If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred."

As for me, the object lesson here is that there's a tension that exists when you're a conscious consumer of pop-culture exports. What's evident is that the series meant (and still means) a lot to a great deal of people and how they choose to reconcile with Rowling's sentiments really is up to them.

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