‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’: A missed chance at breakthrough LGBTQ representation

A canon gay ship was almost an actual thing, until it wasn't.

9:00 am EDT, July 31, 2016

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There are a lot of awesome things about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but one of them is not LGBTQ representation.

Warning: Contains mild plot spoilers. This is based off of the live stage version of the show, which I saw at the very first preview performance. If the released script or final version of the show has changed any of these major points feel free to let me know.

Ever since I was introduced to the Harry Potter fandom I’ve always searched for some sort of representation in it. I found myself identifying with Fred and George, mostly because of their ridiculous and comical personalities, but there was no one to identify with on a deeper level. There weren’t any Middle Eastern students in Hogwarts and there weren’t any gay students. There were only a ton of straight white people.

But as I grew with Harry, I started to find something in the series I could connect with: I was a major Harry/Draco shipper when the books were still coming out. Granted, I’d never actually thought they would get together, but they were my favorite ship to look up fan art and fanfiction of because, for me, that would’ve been the closest form of representation I could get.

JK-Rowling-Mid

Then J.K. Rowling went on stage in Carnegie Hall in 2007 and revealed that Albus Dumbledore was gay, and fell in love with Voldemort’s predecessor, Gellert Grindelwald.

The shock! The outrage! The representation! The fabulousness! Obviously feelings about this announcement sent shockwaves throughout the fandom, and I was particularly excited that J.K. Rowling had decided to represent the LGBTQ community in her world… but then the more I started thinking about it, the more disappointed I became.

J.K. Rowling had an opportunity in the series to take a beloved, strong character and show that his sexual orientation had nothing to do with how smart, powerful or important he was. Obviously we know she feels this way, and I feel this way as well, but it would’ve been better if it was done in the books and not pointed out after the fact. It felt tacked on to canon.

This summer, author Patrick Ness said it best when he revealed that one of the lead characters in the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Class, is gay:

And then Star Trek Beyond went even further by revealing that Sulu is gay. Actor John Cho, who plays Sulu in the film series, also reiterated the same points that Patrick Ness made, stating, “I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out of it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations.”

That’s exactly it. Having a gay character in your story is not a big deal. It’s about as big of a deal as having a blonde character in your story — it’s just part of who they are.

Dumbledore being gay? That’s not a big deal. The big deal here is the fact that there apparently wasn’t a natural way to input that into the novels, to make it truly canon. I know that generally speaking anything J.K. Rowling says is canon, but it would have had so much more meaning if Dumbledore being gay was just a natural part of the story, like Peeves being annoying or Hermione being smart.

She missed an opportunity to change the way stories for LGBTQ characters are told, and unfortunately, she missed an even bigger opportunity with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Cursed Child

Currently, most stories with LGBTQ characters focus specifically on that character’s queerness, about how hard it is to be different or dealing with their gender and sexual identity, and their struggles with relationships. We’ve seen the hard-knock life of being queer in a non-queer world countless times, so it’s time to start showing the LGBTQ community just be themselves with no questions about their lifestyle. Star Trek Beyond‘s revelation about Sulu is a perfect example of how to do it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child almost did.

When watching Cursed Child I felt a distinct and obvious connection between Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter, and no, that wasn’t just my inner Harry/Draco fanboy making me feel this way. Everyone on Hypable’s staff who attended the performance, as well as several reviewers (including one quoted below) had felt it as well, and we went on to talk about it at length after seeing the play.

Throughout the play, Albus and Scorpius bond and grow to love each other as friends, and that friendship starts to get more physical, which doesn’t feel forced or odd or gay. It felt normal. In the first part of the play Albus hugs Scorpius, who isn’t really a hugger but accepts it anyway because it is his best friend doing the hugging. As the play continues the two characters hug more often — with Scorpius’ hesitance getting in the way every time — until the final act where Scorpius ends up being the one to hug his best friend (for plot reasons I won’t expose for the sake of being #wormtaily). The intimacy between the two of them is enough to warrant a natural romance without making sexual attraction a big deal.

And then there’s the staircase scene.

New story, new Hogwarts banners premiered on stage.

In Part One of the show, Albus and Scorpius play with time and end up in an alternate universe where Albus is in Gryffindor. He is told by Harry to stay away from Scorpius because Harry doesn’t trust him, a demand that is ignored by Albus until he and Scorpius get into a fight. Albus finally listens to his dad and tells Scorpius they shouldn’t be friends.

This leads to a very strange sequence where Scorpius and Albus are each atop a different set of moving staircases. The two characters and their respective stairs move around the stage as they’re forced to avoid each other walking through Hogwarts. There’s a lot of tension in this sequence because they know they’re good friends, but it ends with them realizing that they cannot be apart because they care about each other too much. The staircases eventually join and the two embrace each other once again with far less hesitance on Scorpius’ part.

That staircase scene proved that Scorpius and Albus’ relationship was more important than their relationship with their parents, and it shows us how strongly they feel about one another. The chemistry is brilliant, and the romance is so clearly there it is almost tangible, yet not in your face and unexpected. It would’ve been a fantastic way to launch the ship to end all ships.

This was the moment I thought J.K. Rowling realized her missed opportunity with Dumbledore and was about to rectify it with Albus and Scorpius.

I was wrong.

At the end of the show, after all the drama is said and done, Scorpius talks about how he wants to ask Rose out to a dance, despite Rose not being a very big part of the plot in any way shape or form, and having only appeared prominently in the first 20 minutes of Part One. I know that people are always claiming that “you can’t force a character to be gay,” but apparently you sure as hell can force one to be straight, because that romance came out of nowhere.

Alright, maybe not out of nowhere, because there is a cute scene between Scorpius and Rose at the start of Part One, but one cute scene in a five hour play doth not a romance make. On the other hand, Albus and Scorpius went on an incredible journey, going out of their way to protect each other and save each other. They make it clear on numerous occasions they care for one another deeply. Does that not sound like a more valid introduction to a romance?

Draco and his son, Scorpius - would this look not mean 1000x more if Scorpius was gay?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child could have ended with Scorpius asking Albus to the dance and Albus accepting, and it would have been the most perfect way to show the audience that they had just witnessed one of the world’s greatest love stories, that just happened to be between two men. That’s what it had the potential to be, and J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorn and John Tiffany would have been praised for being innovative storytellers breaking down barriers in LGBTQ storytelling.

Instead, we’re left with another Harry Potter story that doesn’t directly show us a single member of the LGBTQ community. Sure, if she wanted to, J.K. Rowling could announce in a few years that Albus Potter is gay, but that 👏 just 👏 doesn’t 👏 count. Telling your readers and/or audience a few years later that a character has been gay this entire time doesn’t equal representation, because you weren’t representing that community when you wrote it.

It’s important that we represent the LGBTQ community with central characters that already exist in the main story arc, so that people reading or watching these stories understand just how normal the community is. If you announce that a character is gay after the story is over, you’re pointing out their differences and making it about their sexuality again, which singles them out as something different or odd. The point should be to make them equal to the heterosexual characters during the story.

When I was talking about the possibilities of Scorpius and Albus being together with my friends one of them had said, “I just don’t see it,” and the other said, “Why can’t two men just be friends?” In terms of not seeing it, I’m frankly surprised how anyone can’t see the connection between Albus and Scorpius because it’s about as obvious as Hagrid’s height, and while they may not think it’s inherently romantic, that’s the problem: It could be, and it should be. And save for Scorpius’ “crush” on Rose it totally is.

The LGBTQ flag honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting

When it comes to the argument of “why can’t two guys ever just be friends,” which is a frequent one when possibilities of a male/male friendship becoming romantic in canon come up (i.e. Merlin/Arthur), I have to remind you that the two male protagonists in movies and shows are always just friends. Literally, and I do mean literally, always. It’s so rare to see a close male/male friendship move past that, to see a natural romance occur between two characters that have already established a fantastic connection. Two male best friends is a common theme among almost every single major franchise, and never do they actually get into a relationship.

With all the shows and movies I watch I haven’t really seen a male friendship ever become more than just a friendship despite the possibilities of it happening, and that’s why I feel so strongly about Albus/Scorpius. With how strong their connection is there’s literally no reason to not make it go where it’s naturally already going and I’m honestly surprised that it didn’t go there when I watched Part Two.

That surprise and disappointment grows when I realize that J.K. Rowling has always been so supportive of the LGBTQ community. When confronted with questions asking about Dumbledore being gay she’s always responded with pro-LGBTQ stances. For instance, when someone tweeted, “Thank you so much for writing Harry Potter. I wonder why you said that Dumbledore is a gay because I can’t see him in that way,” she responded with:

And she does it again when she talks about the importance of LGBTQ youth seeing hate speech being challenged:

There’s no question here that J.K. Rowling is an LGBTQ ally, and she’s even mentioned that there are gay characters in Hogwarts.

But my question to you, J.K. Rowling (if you happen to be reading), is where are they? It’s absolutely amazing that you’ve revealed that Hogwarts is an LGBTQ friendly place, and that no kid in the LGBTQ community should feel like they have to hide, but I find it ironic because as far as canon text (and now theatre) is concerned they’re all still in hiding.

You’ve outed Dumbledore outside of canon text and I feel like that doesn’t count. Because if I re-read the books with the thought that Dumbledore is gay I’m thinking, “Why don’t you tell Harry about your love story? Why are you hiding yourself? Why are you in the closet?” If one of the most powerful wizards in history couldn’t find the strength to come out of the closet to his closest confidants (in a medium where we see it happen, not where we are simply told about it) then how can I be expected to come out to my own family when I have neither magic nor Hogwarts to keep me safe?

The only gay character in the series lived a hidden, loveless life. Maybe it was accurate for his character, but him not sharing this secret with his friends (and with the readers) makes it seem as if there’s something to be ashamed of. There’s no hint of inclusivity or acceptance in the text or on the stage, which is entirely contradictory to what J.K. Rowling has been telling us on Twitter.

Actions speak louder than words, and if Hogwarts truly was a safe place for the LGBTQ community then we should have seen that proven by now. Albus and Scorpius were teed up to bat — all you had to do was hit the ball. “The ball” is a quick kiss or an invite to the dance, just to tell us that there IS something there.

Despite Albus and Scorpius being the most obvious and natural pairing to put together, if there really was a very strong and valid excuse for them not getting together then there should have been at least one other character in Cursed Child that came out of the closet. A character that we know. A character that walked out with a same sex partner, with no coming out party or limelight involved, just some equal representation. It wouldn’t have taken advantage of the chemistry between Albus and Scorpius, but it would have made strong impressions that what JK Rowling has been touting on Twitter is actually true.

48 opportunities for LGTBQ representation. None taken.

Think about it: The cast of characters in the show, and in the universe of Harry Potter, is so large that statistically speaking it doesn’t make sense that there wouldn’t be any visible out and proud queer characters. In the cast of this show alone (photo above) there were 42 chances for a character to have been revealed to be a part of the LGBTQ spectrum. Instead, every single one of them is straight.

It’s baffling that I have to to step on a soap box and ask for equal representation, when that’s something that should have been a visible part of this universe all along.

I’m not trying to say that I just want gay characters for the sake of it, and I’m not trying to shame anyone behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for being homophobic or anything like that, but in a world where the LGBTQ community is still fighting for equal rights and representation, I feel it necessary to note that the Harry Potter universe is still void of that representation. The Cursed Child came so close to fixing that — it was right there in their hands. In light of the missed opportunity, I now almost feel betrayed that it didn’t happen.

The LGBTQ flag honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting

The preview performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child should’ve been used to gather feedback from the audience. If they did survey participants, they would’ve heard about the chemistry viewers felt.

Take this review posted on The Telegraph from a Harry Potter fan as an example:

The characters long for each other in opposite staircases in an extended pining montage. Scorpius tells Albus that if he had to pick one person to get lost in time with, he’s choose him. Albus tells Scorpius he makes him stronger. They are explicitly compared to Snape and Lily.

So when the big turnaround happened during the final five minutes, I felt like I was being told that magic wasn’t real, after all.

What a letdown it was, after five lovely hours. I was surprised that the writers would choose to include all the near-romantic interactions and then bring in an another love interest in right at the very last minute to make it very clear that the chemistry between the two main characters was meant to be read as purely platonic.

The relationship between Albus and Scorpius would have been the perfect chance to include the first queer couple in the canon, and I find it heartbreaking that they chose not to go there, denying queer readers a chance to see themselves represented in the wizarding world.

Here’s hoping that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will attempt to fix this when it comes out later this year, because I really just want to be represented in my favorite fandom — is that so much to ask?

How do you feel about the lack of LGBTQ representation in ‘Cursed Child’?

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