When we talk about “toxic fandoms” and racism, the easiest example people go to are male nerds mad about Black people being cast to play comic book redheads and other “historically white” characters. However, one little known or talked about example is the way that the Harry Potter fandom from 2005 practically went to war over the one-line reveal that Slytherin Blaise Zabini was actually Black.
One perfect example of antiblackness in fandom that proves false these claims that Black characters and celebrities are just “lacking” something to make them worth shipping (characterization, canon romance, tapping tropes) and that is why no one ships them?
The Harry Potter fandom’s response to Blaise Zabini before and after JK Rowling’s reveal that Blaise was male (2004 in a Q&A) and Black (“He recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes” in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Chapter 7: “The Slug Club in 2005).
Blaise Zabini’s only appearance prior to that book and film was in a single line in the first Harry Potter book (““Well done, Ron, excellent,” said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as “Zabini, Blaise,” was made a Slytherin.). However, people instantly made up all sorts of headcanons for this character based off of a name and Hogwarts house.
For the eight years between Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here’s all what fandom frequently decided Blaise Zabini was:
Tan (but sometimes pale)
Dark haired with light, sometimes blue or green eyes
Draco’s best friend
A pain in the ass to Hermione
Sometimes shipped with Pansy Parkinson
Sometimes a girl
A bisexual Chad
A cool badass
Occasionally very Gender (and written as androgynous or gender queer/fluid)
He didn’t have any characterization or lines in canon, but he sure did have all of that.
This isn’t a new conversation, but Return to Hogwarts and responses from fans past and present on social media invite us to revisit the question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?
The answer, of course, is complicated and nuanced. Except for the moments when it’s pretty straightforward. The idea that we can separate the art from the artist hinges on a form of privilege and a misunderstanding of how creators can put themselves and their beliefs into their work. French philosopher Roland Barthes’ essay “Death of the Author” is used as a way to explain that it’s “just art” and can be consumed without any input from the creator, making the creator someone whose shouting doesn’t impact the narrative or your understanding of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to bigotry, that’s not necessarily an approach that works.
In grad school, there were a lot of books I read for my degree that were by people I would disagree with deeply or who were open and avowed bigots. The Marquis de Sade, who featured heavily in my class on transgressive literature, was a sex pest and pervert (negative). Philosopher Heidegger, who we had to learn about in literary theory because he… is apparently influential to it and influenced so many others – he did the whole “notion of ‘being'” stuff, was a whole ass Nazi. Lovecraft was a racist weenie weirdo. Some of the comic writers I did my thesis work on… were really shitty.
Rowling is a TERF. She’s claimed that title. She acts like one. She breaks bread with many.
Awful people often make things that are so important to us as readers and fans. Harry Potter is one of the most important thing in many people’s lives. It got them through hell.
How do you break free from that? How do you leave that fandom behind you or try to make it better? What do we even owe each other as fans?
I try to answer those questions in the first Fan Service installment of 2022… It was TOUGH
I spent most of the past 36 hours researching and thinking about Harry Potter fandom and the barely still-around documentation of the racism that fandom enacted about characters of color – especially Blaise Zabini. They’ll be turned into organized thoughts eventually, but for now… thread collection:
Harry Potter fandom really has been openly racist for ages because they sure did ship Blaise with Draco and/or Hermione right up until the reveal he was Black and then, after the in-fandom rioting, he got the treatment that most Black characters get and his fanworks/ships went 📉
Y’all know my complicated and frequently critical feelings about J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise, but man… Hogwarts Mystery is kind of almost what I wanted from Pottermore when that was first announced.
Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis is a new fan-made series that looks at Hermione’s life post-Hogwarts. It’s incredible, relatable, and funny as hell for the most part (but don’t let your guard down like I did because HGatQLC will hit you in the feels before the first episode is done).
This first episode has me super excited to see what they’ll do next! The series has a racebent Black Hermione Granger, a Draco Malfoy that I kinda don’t want to fight, and some really well-written characters that I’m excited to see more of and the potential for incredible tension.
If, like me and many others, you were disappointed with Rowling’s nigh unbroken focus on white characters and the fact that everyone’s life goal was to be married off in neat M/F packages with babies on the way, give this webseries a try because it embodies the fandom mantra of “Epilogue? What Epilogue?”
To find out more about this series, check out the first episode and follow the awesome creative team on:
Note: I absolutely wrote the wrong title down initally because I am a space case. Deal with it.
I went and saw Fantastic Beasts this past week.
Considering that my video review is almost an hour long, obviously it inspired a whole host of grouchy thoughts on my end. Mainly that the film’s beautiful cinematography and the way that the magical creatures first brought to our attention in Rowling’s 2001 magizoological textbook are brought to life on the big screen don’t make up for barely unbroken whiteness, Rowling’s misuse of Native cultures in and out of the film, and what reads to me as a really shitty narrative about abuse survivors.
I fell out of love with the Harry Potter series pretty early on. I liked the idea of the franchise and owned all of the books at one time or another, but with every new tidbit that Rowling revealed about her characters and the world that they lived in, I found myself increasingly disenchanted. This is all thanks to Rowling’s constant need to express regret for everything except how lacking her works were in diversity and her new material which contains things like confirming/canonizing her “lycanthropy as a stand-in for AIDS/HIV” stance or the way she views Native cultures as a monolith while misrepresenting and misusing Native peoples and cultures.
I watched Fantastic Beasts specifically because I wanted to check the film out and provide an honest opinion of it. I did go into it expecting to hate two specific things (the lack of diversity and Johnny Depp) but I was surprised at all the other things that made me annoyed or uncomfortable throughout watching it.
Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the critical slant I tend to take when watching films, understand that this isn’t going to be a review where I say super goopy things about the film. I think I say one and a half nice things about it and they’re not very nice at that. So be prepared for a rather caustic look at the thing you probably love!
Notes, clarification, warnings, and links to thing you might want to read are under the cut!
Every time I talk about J. K. Rowling’s current and continuing diversity fails, someone always has to show up to remind me how she “couldn’t write diversely because it was 1997”.
Without fail, people are more invested in protecting Rowling from criticism she will never see or care about than in acknowledging the way that her writing has continued to erase marginalized people while allegorizing their struggles in order to pad her plot and make her characters more interesting.
Even if I knew (or cared) more about the realities of publishing when I was seven years old, the fact of the matter is that JKR managed to put a ton of atypical things in her “kids’ series”. She wrote about the violent effects of racism and blood supremacy as well as child abuse and children coming of age in a war torn world.
And yet, she “couldn’t” include more than eight characters of color or any queer characters who made It to the end of the series alive or who were queer onscreen?
The “it was 1997” excuse for Rowling’s diversity fails only holds a scant bit of water when it comes to looking at the body of her work. Other writers wrote queer characters into their works, other authors managed to have diverse children’s books during the same period that Rowling was publishing her books.Read More »
Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains very brief mentions historical acts of oppression (largely in vague terms), sexual assault and pedophilia in Laurel K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, as well as more indepth references to anti-Black and anti-Native racism in the same series.
There’s nothing wrong with a good allegory.
Unfortunately, there’s this thing that happens where writers use an allegory that mimics or calls back to real world oppression that constantly rubs me the wrong way
Keep in mind that I actually don’t mind the use of allegories in fiction. In fact, I think they can be useful. Some of my favorite works of speculative fiction focus on supernatural figures dealing with oppression due to what they are, after all.
However, many writers who use allegories then kind of overuse them at the expense of portraying nuanced representations of actual or “real world” oppression.
Whatever your reasoning, chances are that if you’re a paranormal romance, urban (or general) fantasy, or science fiction author, you’ve used an allegory that mimics or calls back to an instance of real world oppression.
However, there’s definitely a lot to be said about the very many authors who think that that supernatural form of race-based oppression is the only thing they have to do. They don’t think deeper.Read More »
Part passive aggressive stress valve, part honest attempt at expressing my continuous frustration with JKR, this first post for Letters to the Author is me at my grouchiest. Future posts will be more moderate. Maybe.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first time I read a Harry Potter book I was either nine or ten years old. It was before I moved to Florida and before I knew that there was a certain kind of magic that really only existed in books like yours.
As a small child, I didn’t notice how poor your portrayals of people of color were or how lacking all forms of representation were. You got so much praise for the women you wrote, but aside from my own headcanons about Hermione’s implicit blackness, only a handful of your women were like me.Read More »
My big issue with all of this “after the fact diversity” that we’re seeing around JR Rowling and the Harry Potter series is that she’s getting so much credit for doing basically nothing with regard to representation.Read More »
For a body of media that seems fixated on different avenues of oppression, the Harry Potter series is seriously lacking when it comes to actual diversity and oppression that doesn’t revolve around magical beings. Seriously, just about everything’s a metaphor for some form of oppression or some facet of a marginalized identity.
If you’re looking for allegories about human rights and racism shown through a lens of magical humans and magical species, cool. That’s what you’re getting.
If you’re actually looking for nuanced interpretations of how race, power, and privilege intersect and affect each other in a world of magic, maybe look somewhere else.
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