On April 12, HBO made it official: We’re getting more Harry Potter. Not new Harry Potter, per se — the Warner Bros. TV reboot will adapt the plot of the seven main books, retreading the content of the first eight movies in the franchise. According to the release, author J.K. Rowling will serve as executive producer on the “decade-long series.”
Which raises the question: What would a Harry Potter show even look like in 2023? What could “Harry Potter, but again” achieve that the originals didn’t? And do we think the new Harry Potter TV show means there will be more than one magic school serving the entirety of Asia?
In some ways, solving those questions may seem inconsequential to the story of the Boy Who Lived and his battle against He Who Must Not Be Named. But for contemporary audiences, it’s really the only promise for the franchise left as Warner Bros. milks it across merchandise, games, movies, books, and now TV shows: a wizarding world that actually matters today.
Harry Potter has become a particularly thorny topic since author J.K. Rowling has made numerous statements against trans people. Her actions have colored public perception of the Harry Potter books and its adaptations: What was once seen as crucial, beloved, and formative to (at least) a whole generation of kids is now a sort of third rail. It’s increasingly hard to separate the author and her political statements and actions, which have clouded the air around the franchise — calling into question what Harry Potter could, or should, be.
This particular adaptation has also made Rowling’s level of involvement very clear. In the release for the Max Original show, Rowling said: “Max’s commitment to preserving the integrity of my books is important to me, and I’m looking forward to being part of this new adaptation which will allow for a degree of depth and detail only afforded by a long form television series.”
It seems Rowling is intent on adapting the series close to its source material. But even that opens up some questions about what exactly the show will add detail to. Over the years, Rowling has shared additional information about characters, retroactively making the series appear inclusive. There’s the fact that Rowling stated in a fan Q&A that Dumbledore is gay just a few months after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, though she famously left this information out of the books. For a while it went largely unexplored in the Fantastic Beasts movies as well.
But sometimes the material that’s in the books is even more questionable. Character names — like one of the only main characters of East Asian descent being named “Cho Chang” — and the tokenization they represent highlighted how myopically white Rowling’s fantastical Great Britain (or at least its wizards) were. (Again: This is a world where four whole continents have the same wizarding school needs as a single country in Europe.) People have questioned the books’ portrayal of house elves or werewolves, and Jon Stewart recently made headlines for pointing out how the Gringotts goblins play into antisemitic caricatures.
These are things that might not even have stuck out to readers — particularly young ones — on first blush. But now these details are increasingly hard to ignore, and in dire need of an update.
A new Harry Potter show could certainly rectify some of these things. A show would have more screen time to pull in more of the subplots adored in the books — more Nearly Headless Nick, or Fred and George exploits! More general Hogwarts shenanigans! A TV adaptation could also allow the story to add more characters of color in the principal cast, even recasting main roles with people of color as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child did. Characters of color who were known more for one-off lines could become key players, even if Harry Potter is still the white boy from the book jacket. The world of Harry Potter could be reimagined and held up to more scrutiny.
But honestly, at this point, wanting more from Harry Potter is enough to drive a person crazy. Fans’ issues with the franchise are baked in, whether at the foundational level with the books or in more recent releases like Hogwarts Legacy, which was embroiled in its own share of controversies. Even a company the scale of Warner Bros. seems poised to follow along (though so many of the shows and movies given the greenlight at the announcement of HBO Max’s rebrand were based on existing IPs).
Most tellingly, amid the announcement of the new Harry Potter show, chairman and CEO of HBO and Max content Casey Bloys opted to avoid answering whether Rowling’s views, which are widely critiqued as transphobic, would affect the series. “I don’t think this is the forum,” Bloys said. “That’s a very online conversation, very nuanced and complicated and not something we’re going to get into.” He added that the priority is “what’s on the screen,” which is an “incredibly affirmative and positive” story about “love and acceptance.”
But characterizing discussions of transphobia and racism in Harry Potter as a “very online conversation” dismisses these topics as unserious. Rowling’s politics have led some fans to stop spending money on new releases related to the franchise, in order to avoid supporting her in any way. There are new kids in new generations finding Harry Potter, through movies or books, every day, and the ideas that are emphasized in these new releases and adaptations matter.
These ideas complicate a series fans hold dear, and they deserve to be addressed if the series has any hope of being relevant. A fantastical world in which gender is rigid and whole cultures have to envision themselves wedged into a single wizarding school seems like nothing fantastical at all. It may be impossible to fully untangle Rowling from the series she created. But with her so involved in reinterpreting her story for TV in a new era, it’s hard to imagine Hogwarts looking like anything other than a very specific type of wish fulfillment.