The studio behind the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” says it agreed to China’s demands to remove all LGBTQ references from the film to secure its release there.
After reports surfaced that Warner Bros. caved to Chinese censors and excised certain lines of dialogue from the “Harry Potter” spin-off sequel, the studio confirmed that “minor edits” have indeed been made to the film, which was released in China this past weekend.
The censored lines ― “because I was in love with you” and “the summer Gellert and I fell in love” ― refer to the longstanding love between the wizards Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), who carried on a romantic relationship as teenagers. The exchange marks the first time the same-sex romance has been directly addressed within any “Harry Potter”-related book or film in the 15 years since author JK Rowling revealed that Dumbledore is gay.
In a statement, the studio insisted that the “spirit of the film remains intact,” saying the runtime of “Secrets” has only been shortened by a few seconds for Chinese audiences.
“As a studio, we’re committed to safeguarding the integrity of every film we release, and that extends to circumstances that necessitate making nuanced cuts in order to respond sensitively to a variety of in-market factors,” Warner Bros. said in a statement to Variety. “Our hope is to release our features worldwide as released by their creators but historically we have faced small edits made in local markets.”
“In the case of ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,’ a six-second cut was requested and Warner Bros. accepted those changes to comply with local requirements but the spirit of the film remains intact,” the statement continued. “We want audiences everywhere in the world to see and enjoy this film, and it’s important to us that Chinese audiences have the opportunity to experience it as well, even with these minor edits.”
“Harry Potter” fans are particularly frustrated by the move, given the franchise’s rocky history with the queer community, as studies continue to prioritize global ticket sales over meaningful LGBTQ representation.
“They made the choice to allow the content to be censored in order for the movie to be played in China, and profit from that distribution deal,” one Twitter user wrote. “They could have chosen not to. They decided that it’s worth it to censor gay people. Consider that.”
Rowling, who has been embroiled in her own controversy over her transphobic views in recent years, revealed that Dumbledore was gay in 2007 after the release of the final book in the original “Harry Potter” series. The books themselves gave no indication of the character’s sexuality one way or another.
Since then, the films have yet to directly address Dumbledore’s identity as a gay man, angering LGBTQ fans who’ve longed to see themselves represented in the Potter universe. David Yates, director of all three “Fantastic Beasts” movies to date, sparked significant backlash ahead of the release of the second film, which he said would “not explicitly” acknowledge Dumbledore’s sexual orientation.
At the time, Rowling teased that Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship would be unpacked over the course of the five-part “Beasts” series. The final two films are still in development.
“You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man — he wasn’t always the sage,” Rowling told Entertainment Weekly in 2018. “We’ll see him at that formative period of his life. As far as his sexuality is concerned… watch this space. ”
LGBTQ content and references to same-sex relationships are frequently purged from foreign films due to government regulations in China, where only a handful of features are allowed to be shown in cinemas every year.
Most recently, an altered version of the Oscar-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody” was screened in Chinese theaters with references to Queen singer Freddie Mercury’s sexuality removed altogether.
Despite the backlash from audiences domestically and abroad, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” managed to top the Chinese box office, though it earned just $9.7 million in its opening weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. By comparison, the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films opened in China to $40.4 million and $36.6 million. More than half of Chinese cinemas are closed at the moment due to recent COVID-19 surges.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” which also stars Ezra Miller, Jessica Williams, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, hits theaters stateside on Friday.