Sunday, 7 August 2016

Did The Cursed Child [CENSORED] the Fandom?

I've been wanting to write this discussion post about Harry Potter And the Cursed Child very quickly after I read the script and chatting to some people on Twitter. It feels important to me to write it and discuss.

However, to do that, I have to reveal some spoilers and I feel a bit uncertain on doing this. But after doing a poll on Twitter and chatting to a few people on Twitter, I feel comfortable enough to do this.

So, before I go on, I must state two things. First, this is from me reading the script. Just reading the script. I am not seeing the play till the end of September 2016, so my views might change once I have seen the play. But, at the moment, this is SOLELY on the script. And second, as I am revealing spoilers (one or two spoilers, not all, FYI!), if you haven't seen the play or read the script, you need to leave now. I am going to talk spoilers in a line or two.

But before I say "Go now!", I wanna thank all you peeps on Twitter who I chatted with and made me go "Oh yeah, that's interesting point." (aka Michael, George, Julianne, Kate, Rob, Charlie & Rachel). So, am about to go all spoiler on you so run away. Page break is in place so BYE non-spoilery people!

Question: is the Cursed Child queer-baiting the fandom?

Ok, that's a strong question to ask and a strong term to use. For those unsure on what I mean by queer-baiting, Wiki states that queer-baiting is a "... term coined for a relatively recent socio-cultural phenomenon that affects LGBT+ (umbrella term: queer) fans of media, particularly audio-visual media like television series and films (but also other media like bookspodcastsradio shows, etc).".

Now, why have I asked this? I read the script and I couldn't help feeling that two characters belong to the LGBT community. Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy share a strong connection, and nearly every person I have spoken to who have either read the script or seen the play has said that they believe that these two young characters are in love with each other or are falling in love with each other.

However, there are moments in the play that point out that both these characters are straight. Scorpius tries to flirt with Rose Granger-Weasley throughout the play with him (two or three times that I read/remember), in his final scene, asking Rose out (only to have her say no). And with Albus, there is a moment when he was talking to Ginny after Delphi's true identity comes out, and he said "I liked her". It is left vague - is this a friendship "like" or a romantic "like"?

But if these characters are in a platonic friendship, why are fans thinking otherwise?

When these characters first meet on the way to Hogwarts, we know both Albus and Scorpius are incredibly lonely. Albus is struggling with the legacy of not only being Harry Potter's son, but also being named after Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. People use Dumbledore's name as relief in the same way we say "Thank God". And, later in the play, Albus shouts "I didn't choose to be his son!". With Scorpius, he is son to Draco Malfoy and we discover he is rumoured to be Voldemort's son (let's not open this can of worms as I do want to discuss this also at a later date) and, late in this first act, we discover that Scorpius's mother has died. These two boys become friends on the Hogwarts Express and this friendship is cemented when both are Sorted into the same house.

But as the play goes forward, we see moments between the two. Albus hugs Scorpius throughout the play and Scorpius, who either doesn't received many hugs from his parents or doesn't like them, not only counts them but he let's Albus hug him. The only time we see Draco hugs his son is at near the end of the play, but even then, it's described as a "half-hug in a very awkward way". When Scorpius's mother died, he asked Albus to come to the funeral and to be a good friend. And, before that, when Scorpius told Albus, Albus was shocked that Scorpius didn't send him an Owl.

In a later scene, where Albus and Delphi are practising spells, Scorpius is watching them and "part of him likes it and part of him doesn't". When later in the play, Albus is wiped from history, Scorpius risks everything to correct the past. When he is confronted by a Dementor, he thinks of Albus. When he corrects history and sees Albus, Scorpius rushes forward and hugs him (which is unheard of as Albus has always hugged Scorpius).

And with Albus, he respects Scorpius. When he comes up with his idea to correct Harry's greatest mistake, he doesn't do it alone. He tells Scorpius. After the first time Albus and Scorpius tried to correct the past, Harry tells Albus to stay away from Scorpius (not telling you why), Albus says no and there is a near argument over this. Near the end of the play, when we discover who Delphi is, she says she tried to find Albus's weakest to make him do what she wanted. And she discovered it - if Albus didn't do what she wanted, she was going to hurt (and kill) Scorpius.

And do you really want me to go into a full-blown discussion about the staircase scene?

With all these moments, readers of the script in and out of the Harry Potter fandom have read that these characters are members of the LGBT community and are in love with each other. So, why aren't they?

Before I got any further with reasons on why, I must stress that, while JK Rowling created this original story, she didn't create it alone. She created it with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (with the latter writing the script). She isn't the sole creator and we don't know how involved she was in creating this play.

First of all, this play could be doing what Deathly Hallows did. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we get Dumbledore's backstory and his relationship with Grindelwald. JK Rowling stated in an interview with podcast, Pottercast, that "sensitive adult readers had already seen [Dumbledore being gay and in love with Grindelwald]. I don’t think that came as a big surprise to some adult readers. I think a child would see a friendship and a very devoted friendship. But these things also occur". Maybe the play is trying to mirror Deathly Hallows. But if this is the case, why be all cloak and dagger about it in a time where people are calling out for more diversity? 

There are only two reasons I can think for this. The first is the reaction when Noma Dumezweni, an award winning actor, was casted as Hermione. Some fans reacted negatively over this because she didn't look like how Hermione looked liked in their heads and in the movies (aka the colour of her skin). But the majority of fans welcomed the casting and have for some time, debated whether Hermione is a person belonging to the BAME community (Black And Minority Ethicality). This happened again when a guest post was written for fan site,  Hypable. The amount of comments I saw on Facebook going "Why are you making this a big deal?! Can't you just enjoy the story?" unnerved me. This person had a valid point and wanted to discuss. They didn't want to get attack because they aired an opinion. 

And remember the reaction when JK Rowling told the world Dumbledore was gay? I laughed and went "I knew it" but people got angry and upset. Why didn't Dumbledore tell Harry he was gay? Why weren't we told in the book? Because, when was the last time that your teacher told you their sexuality? Anyone? This is rare/non-exist. And, given Dumbledore's and Harry's relationship, would it be weird/odd/super creepy for a TEACHER to tell a CHILD/PUPIL that they were gay? The media within the Harry Potter books even pointed out how "odd" the Dumbledore/Harry relationship was. If Dumbledore outed himself publicly, could you imagine the media's reaction to this relationship? The word "peodophile" screams to mind... 

The second could be purely business. If (and when) this play goes touring round the world, would it still be a huge success when there are still countries who still think being gay is against the law and is punishable by death? Also, Harry Potter isn't just Harry Potter any more - it is a huge franchise. It's no longer called "Harry Potter". We have "JK Rowling's Wizarding World" and Warner Bros has created the "Harry Potter Global Franchise Development Team" (something I didn't know about till another podcast, Alohomora, discussed it and wondered is the Harry Potter brand has lost touch with the fandom...) and both of these have avenues (current and future) that can/will generate money. 

The second reason why Albus and Scorpius might not be LGBT is how they were written. Like I said before, JK Rowling didn't write the script. She helped create the story with the play's director, John Tiffany, and the scriptwriter, Jack Thorne. Jack Thorne wrote the script. He might wanted to write a strong male friendship (something that isn't written a lot about in YA fiction - or even fiction in general). And remember, this is a play so it's prime media is on stage so the actors would read the script and take director from their instincts and the director's. 

But I chatted to people who have seen the play and they said they felt that Albus and Scorpius were gay on stage. So the idea of writing a strong male friendship failed. Plus, if it was a thing about strong male friendship, why couldn't one of these guys be a member of the LGBT community? 

Another reason linked to how Cursed Child was written could be laziness. Not on purpose laziness but laziness in general. Was lack of thought or lack of looking outside our comfort zone (with the creators's sexualities) that Albus and Scorpius are straight acting? 

The third reason (and my final) for why Albus and Scorpius might not be gay is... well... they are gay or bisexual. But they are struggling with their sexualities and their lives at that moment. Remember, both characters are 14 when the core of the play takes place and they are dealing with a lot of issues as I stated earlier. They might not want to think about their sexuality or even considered it. They don't have time to think about it when current issues need to take importance. But, how would the fandom react if on Pottermore, it was announced that both characters are gay and started dating each other in their sixth year? I would day pretty angrily. The fans would ask "Why? Why wasn't this shown in the play? Why state it after? Why didn't we see it?!"

We have shows with huge fandoms that have LGBT characters. Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Class. All these shows have either reference characters's sexuality and gender. For example, in one episode of Doctor Who, a character called Lady Casandra ("Moisture me") says she was born a boy. We have Captain Jack (who jumps between Doctor Who and Torchwood) was the show's first open non-heterosexual character who had relationships with men, women, human and alien. In Class, show runner Patrick Ness has stated that one of the main characters will be gay and will have "boyfriend who he kisses & sleeps with & loves". In Sarah Jane Adventures, one of the show runners said that they had character development plans that will have Luke Smith, Sarah Jane's son, come out as gay and be in a relationship with a new character called Sanjay, but due to the sad death of Elizabeth Sladen, the series finished without this happening. 

Another fantasy show is Once Upon A Time when Ruby and Dorothy kiss and become the show's first same sex couple in season 5. They had one episode and then, we don't see them or their relationship go because they are in Oz and the main characters are in the Underworld and Storybrooke. Very out of sight, out of mind.)

So, after all this, we have to ask ourselves: did the Cursed Child queer-bait the fans? Answer: I don't think so. Well, not on purpose, anyway. But this does highlight the fact that there is still a long way to go with diversity, not only within Harry Potter, but in fiction as well, regardless of medium and genre.  As was stated in a The Telegraph's newspaper review "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." 

And for those of you going "Can we just enjoy the story?", yes. Yes, we can just enjoy the story. We should enjoy the story. We should like the story (hard ask for some of you, I know), but because we like something, doesn't mean we can't be critique over it. I wouldn't have spent over 3ish hours writing this post if I didn't like reading Cursed Child or think I was going to enjoy the play. 

We should enjoy, but we shouldn't be afraid to raise our hand, fight injustice, question everything, stand in our truth and be ourselves. Isn't that what the Harry Potter taught us? 

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