So much for gratitude: The Harry Potter stars and Hollywood studio who owe their fortunes to JK Rowling’s genius have turned on her. But like her refusal to be cowed by trans extremists, she’s not taking their attempt to cancel her lying down
On a chilly November night in 2001, the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone premiered in London.
Author J.K. Rowling walked the red carpet with ‘her’ Harry — actor Daniel Radcliffe — and noticed that the 12-year-old was trembling.
She put her arms around the youngster to try to reassure him that he was going to be all right. My, how the tables have turned.
Rowling, 56, created the boy wizard and has ruled over every aspect of his fictional life, not to mention his financial exploitation in films, on stage and in theme parks. The total worth of the Harry Potter empire today is estimated to be £180 billion.
But she has now been repudiated by Radcliffe and the other young actors whom she turned into rich-beyond-dreams stars — all for daring to challenge the hard-line dogma of trans activists who insist biological sex does not exist.
In fact, so universal is the condemnation of Rowling, who has been cast into cinematic Siberia, that even Warner Bros, which owns the rights to all eight Potter films, is doing its best to distance themselves from her.
Not only has she been ostracised from the original cast line-up for the televised reunion to mark the 20th anniversary of the first film, but in the newly released trailer for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film — Rowling’s prequels to Harry Potter — her writing credit is so small you could easily blink and miss it.
Both moves have been widely interpreted as a deliberate act of downplaying Rowling’s involvement in a bid to keep the brand palatable for the next generation of Potter fans.
But therein lies the problem. How do you magic away the goose who lays the golden egg? Not even Hogwarts has a spell for that.
For although Rowling, worth £820 million, now finds herself cast as a modern-day witch for her views — which are shared by millions — she still has almost absolute creative control over all things Potter.
Therefore the ability of Warner Bros to continue to make billions from the brand still rests in her hands. No wonder one source this week described Rowling’s presence at the heart of the Potter empire as an ‘unexploded bomb’.
And as any bomb disposal expert will tell you, delicate handling is essential.
Rowling was not invited to film for the 20th anniversary reunion special. All the young stars – who haven’t been seen together since the premiere of the last film in 2011 – were secured by producer Casey Patterson, who put the show together for HBO. HBO has had streaming rights to the films since September and have poured a fortune into creating a televisual event to drive viewers.
But although Rowling will not appear alongside the original cast in the show, which will go out on New Year’s Day, she has not – and cannot – be airbrushed completely.
Asked about the anniversary plans, Rowling’s publicist Mark Hutchinson told me this week: ‘Jo isn’t commenting at the moment, but on the 20th anniversary retrospective, she will be included via archive material with the approval of her team.’
Note the phrase ‘with the approval of her team’. Warner Bros have to seek consent from Rowling’s agent, Neil Blair, and her team of lawyers for every move they make.
In a similar fashion, the trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which Rowling helped to write, was notable for downplaying the author. The two-minute trailer, released this week, opens: ‘Warner Bros invites you’ and only mentions Rowling in small print in a publishing rights note at the end.
This fulfils a legal requirement — they cannot air the trailer without it, or erase her from the brand, however much it might suit them to do so. Nor, as they were also reminded this week, can they silence her views.
With a timing that would derail most PR campaigns, Rowling returned to the Twitter fray, criticising police rules in Scotland which allow rape suspects to self-identify as women.
In a nod to the ‘doublespeak’ of Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, she wrote: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is A Woman.’
She is, then, a woman who not only will not loosen her grip on her empire but one who won’t observe a convenient silence.
Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter confirms: ‘The Harry Potter franchise has complicated rights issues . . . Rowling controls the franchise and has a say in everything involving the property.’
This presents continued headaches for Warner Bros, who bought the rights to Potter for a reputed $250 million in 2013.
It now emerges they want to make a live-action Hogwarts TV series — with a $10 million per episode budget. In January this year they quietly started casting about for writers and concepts for the show, which would stream on its TV affiliate HBO. It could go into production as early as next year.
Meanwhile a further two Fantastic Beasts films are planned and a film of the stage play Cursed Child, Rowling’s story of what happens when Harry and Hermione grow up, is also in development.
As ever in this world, riches are in prospect: the Potter films have globally taken more than $7 billion at the cinema, and they continue to make millions from streaming.
In the world of intellectual property, Harry Potter is a megastar.
Scott Mendelson, of Forbes business magazine, comments: ‘Warner Bros wants to stay in the J.K. Rowling business. It still profits from those groundbreakingly huge Harry Potter movies, the first of which snagged $27 million in China just this year.’
As do the youngsters she plucked from nowhere and turned into staggeringly rich household names.
Rowling, who was consulted over every aspect of the eight films, gave the nod to the initial director Christopher Columbus and had the right to approve every actor — which she did. She wept when she saw Radcliffe’s screen test because he was exactly the ‘son’ she had in mind.
She spent months on set helping the cast, and the director, to bring her vision to life. By the time the final films were being shot, her role was such that she was even credited as an executive producer.
Plaudits that will continue to be diminished — all because Rowling stepped into the toxic world of trans dogma. Little did she imagine when she took to Twitter in June 2020 to take issue with the phrase ‘People who menstruate’ the furore that would follow.