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Is Dumbledore gay? “Grindelwald” plays show and don’t tell

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Outed by author J.K. Rowling in 2007, the beloved wizard has yet to be clearly defined as gay in any official entries to the Harry Potter canon. Pictured: Jude Law as Young Dumbledore in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (Image courtesy of Warner Brothers)

It’s been just over eleven years since J.K. Rowling published the final volume of her “Harry Potter” saga, a series of books that became a cultural phenomenon – but it was just the beginning for a fantasy franchise that had already spawned a massive fan culture.

The most recent addition to Rowling’s “Potterverse,” as fans call it, was launched in 2016, with the release of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The first of a planned prequel film series starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander (a “magizoologist” mentioned, but never portrayed, within the original Potter novels), it began the epic history of the political upheavals and conflicts that came before the story we already know.

Now, just in time for the holidays, comes the much-anticipated second installment, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

As a film, it is much as expected – big, colorful, full of spectacular special effects and dramatic plot twists, leaving some questions unanswered and creating new ones with its obligatory cliffhanger ending.  It’s darker – much, much darker – than the first entry in the series, and the increasing complications of the continuing narrative sometimes grow ponderous and confusing.  Character development takes a back seat to advancing the storyline – sometimes to the movie’s detriment – and the performances are a mixed bag; Redmayne, as always, is superb, and franchise newcomer Zoe Kravitz gives a standout turn, but Johnny Depp is disappointingly one-note as the movie’s titular antagonist.  It’s heavy on political allegory; Rowling has been a vocal opponent of Trumpism and other nationalist movements in the contemporary world, and its clear she means to make her points about their dangerous influence within her fictional setting.  It’s a movie that has a lot going on, but it’s at its best when it shows us the whimsical menagerie of magical creatures that are, after all, promised by the very name of the overall saga – and it does that a lot.

Critical analysis of a movie like this, of course, is beside the point.  It’s for the fans, and though it has performed less well than the original film, its opening-weekend box office take was more than enough to put it in the number one spot and declare it to be a success.

That’s no surprise; like all new entries to a popular franchise, it has been the source of anticipation from fans.

It’s also been the source of controversy.

Much of this amounts to little more than nitpicking about plot details, though there has been considerable disapproval over the casting of accused sexual assaulter Johnny Depp.

There is one problematic issue, though, that has cast a heavy shadow over the new movie – and it stems from the words of J.K. Rowling herself, uttered at a fan Q&A session held at Carnegie Hall a mere three months after the release of the final “Harry Potter” book, about one of her most beloved characters.

When asked by a fan if Dumbledore (the benevolent wizard headmaster who mentored young Harry to victory against the evil Voldemort – but if you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you already knew that) had even been in love, the author stunned the crowd by responding, “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

The revelation was not universally welcomed.  There was, of course, the predictable homophobic backlash – but even within the LGBTQ community, though many lauded the inclusion in a touchstone of mainstream popular culture, there was disapproval.  Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said at the time, “It’s good that children’s literature includes the reality of gay people… but I am disappointed that she did not make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the book.  Making it obvious would have sent a much more powerful message of understanding and acceptance.”

With the new “Fantastic Beasts” movie, the controversy has been brought to the forefront once again.  The young Dumbledore (excellently portrayed by Jude Law) plays a significant role in its storyline, which starts to explore the history of his relationship with the villainous Grindelwald (Depp) – an aspiring demagogue who believes in the inherent superiority of pure-blood wizards over their human counterparts.  It’s a relationship that – as Rowling clearly stated in her original “outing” of Dumbledore – began as more than a friendship.

When director David Yates stated, back in January of this year, that the upcoming film would “not explicitly” deal with Dumbledore’s love for Grindelwald, many took it as a signal that the character was going to be “straight-washed.”  Yates later back-pedaled on his statement, saying that it would be “clear in what you see.”

Actor Law later addressed the subject in an interview, saying “What you’ve got to remember this is only the second film in a series… there’s obviously a lot more to come.”  Even so, for those hoping for definitive confirmation, it was not enough to allay skepticism.

Of course, for many devotees of the franchise – even some LGBTQ fans – such confirmation was immaterial.  After all, it has become public knowledge that the character is gay, so why did it have to be explicitly stated onscreen?

The answer to that question is well-expressed by GLAAD, who in their 2018 Studio Responsibility Index said, “Far too often, LGBTQ characters and stories are relegated to subtext and it is left up to the audience to interpret or read into a character as being queer. In other cases, audiences may not realize they are seeing an LGBTQ character unless they have outside knowledge of a real figure, have consumed source material for an adaptation, or have read external press confirmations. This is not enough.”

So, now that “The Crimes of Grindelwald” has finally hit screens around the world, does it finally give us a gay Dumbledore?

The answer is yes – and no.

Anyone who doesn’t want spoilers for the movie should stop reading here.

One of the central conditions of the film’s plot is that Dumbledore, known to be the only wizard in the world powerful enough to defeat Grindelwald, is unable to move against him for reasons he is unwilling to make clear.  When confronted about the relationship he shared with the would-be dictator when they were younger, he deflects – although he does admit that the two were “closer than brothers.”

Later, however, we see Dumbledore staring in the Mirror of Erised (look it up, if you have to), and what he sees is very revealing.  Grindelwald is there, and we are shown a vision of the two young wizards, clasping hands and staring soulfully into each other’s eyes.  Closer than brothers, indeed.

Ultimately, we learn that the real reason Dumbledore cannot battle Grindelwald – directly, at least – is that the two young men created a “blood pact” charm which prevents them from ever fighting with each other.  This effectively renders the nature of their former relationship irrelevant, in terms of advancing the plot; if the obstacle is a magical object – which can, presumably, eventually be destroyed – instead of an emotional attachment that cannot be broken in such a straightforward way, then Dumbledore’s personal feelings don’t matter.

Is this a cheat on the part of Rowling and the rest of the creative team responsible for “Fantastic Beasts?”  It remains to be seen.

Rowling is still emphatic that Dumbledore is gay, and both Yates and Law have asserted that future films will certainly delve deeper into the connection between the two wizards, but what we are given in “The Crimes of Grindelwald” falls far short of concrete confirmation.

Yet it is more than strongly implied, both in the dialogue and in Law’s performance (again, he’s excellent), that Dumbledore loves – or at least, once loved – Grindelwald in a decidedly non-platonic way; and that depiction in the mirror of the two characters’ younger selves leaves little doubt to the nature of their relationship.

Out queer actor Ezra Miller – who plays a significant role in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise – said in an interview, “For me, personally, I find Dumbledore’s queerness extremely explicit in this film… What does the Mirror of Erised show you? Nothing more than the most desperate desire of your heart. If that’s not explicitly gay, I don’t know what is.”

Miller went on to praise Rowling, saying, “People have to also take a moment and acknowledge the gift that Jo Rowling gave us by writing one of the greatest characters in literary history… and then, at the end of writing that series, was like, ‘Oh, yeah, and he’s gay. What? Step to me.’ She is forever a god for that.”

In addition, he commented on the storm of pre-release internet vitriol surrounding the movie’s handling of the subject.  “Why don’t you wait until you see the film before you start talking shit on Twitter? Or wait to make up your own mind about something for once in your life,” he said.  “Do your own research. Make up your own mind… before you identify yourself and pick a side, and start throwing things at the opposition.  Because that’s what’s totally screwing everything up right now. And it polarizes us. We’re all human, and there’s a lot of things we can agree on.”

The bottom line?  There really isn’t one – or rather, it depends on who you ask.  While “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” never comes right out and says, “Dumbledore is gay” (and therefore fails to meet the GLAAD recommendation of explicit inclusion by leaving it to be gleaned from subtext only), it certainly makes it clear to all but the least observant of viewers that he is.  From an artistic standpoint, that’s arguably a stronger choice – at least at this point in the story.  For LGBTQ inclusion advocates who desire a stronger and more definitive depiction of the subject, it’s yet another example of Hollywood trying to have it both ways.

What is certain is that this second film essentially defers the controversy to be resolved by future entries in the franchise.  The Dumbledore-Grindelwald relationship is an essential factor in the story’s central conflict, and it’s not going to go away.  Sooner or later, Rowling and company are going to have to swing open the door of their beloved wizard’s magic closet; if they don’t, the bold stand for LGBTQ representation taken by the author with her 2007 revelation will have been for naught.

As for Law, in a New York Times interview earlier this week he confessed that, although sexuality is “certainly a defining element of who he is and what he’s about,” he is himself unsure whether upcoming films will go further in depicting Dumbledore as gay – but he added a strong argument into the ongoing conversation about the subject.

“I think the world is ready for it,” he said, “and if it isn’t, it bloody well should be.”

 

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Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

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Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

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