JK Rowling's not taking their attempt to cancel her lying down

So much for gratitude: The Harry Potter stars and Hollywood studio who owe their fortunes to JK Rowling’s genius have turned on her. But like her refusal to be cowed by trans extremists, she’s not taking their attempt to cancel her lying down

Rowling, 56, created the boy wizard and has ruled over every aspect of his fictional life, not to mention his financial exploitation in films, on stage and in theme parks

On a chilly November night in 2001, the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone premiered in London.

Author J.K. Rowling walked the red carpet with ‘her’ Harry — actor Daniel Radcliffe — and noticed that the 12-year-old was trembling. 

She put her arms around the youngster to try to reassure him that he was going to be all right. My, how the tables have turned.

Rowling, 56, created the boy wizard and has ruled over every aspect of his fictional life, not to mention his financial exploitation in films, on stage and in theme parks. The total worth of the Harry Potter empire today is estimated to be £180 billion.

But she has now been repudiated by Radcliffe and the other young actors whom she turned into rich-beyond-dreams stars — all for daring to challenge the hard-line dogma of trans activists who insist biological sex does not exist.

In fact, so universal is the condemnation of Rowling, who has been cast into cinematic Siberia, that even Warner Bros, which owns the rights to all eight Potter films, is doing its best to distance themselves from her.

Not only has she been ostracised from the original cast line-up for the televised reunion to mark the 20th anniversary of the first film, but in the newly released trailer for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film — Rowling’s prequels to Harry Potter — her writing credit is so small you could easily blink and miss it.

Both moves have been widely interpreted as a deliberate act of downplaying Rowling’s involvement in a bid to keep the brand palatable for the next generation of Potter fans.

But therein lies the problem. How do you magic away the goose who lays the golden egg? Not even Hogwarts has a spell for that.

For although Rowling, worth £820 million, now finds herself cast as a modern-day witch for her views — which are shared by millions — she still has almost absolute creative control over all things Potter.

Therefore the ability of Warner Bros to continue to make billions from the brand still rests in her hands. No wonder one source this week described Rowling’s presence at the heart of the Potter empire as an ‘unexploded bomb’.

In fact, so universal is the condemnation of Rowling, who has been cast into cinematic Siberia, that even Warner Bros, which owns the rights to all eight Potter films, is doing its best to distance themselves from her

And as any bomb disposal expert will tell you, delicate handling is essential.

The decision not to invite Rowling to the 20th anniversary reunion of the film is thought to have been made by Warner Bros producer Casey Patterson. She put the special together for HBO, who have had the streaming rights to the Potter films since September and have poured a fortune into creating a televisual ‘event’ to drive viewers.

Getting the young stars on board was key, as, despite massive fan pressure, they haven’t been seen all together since the premiere of the last film in 2011.

A former talent booker at MTV, Patterson is well-known for producing awards shows and originated a talk show with Sharon Osbourne, who is a friend. She also produced the Vax Live event earlier this year at which Prince Harry and Meghan appeared.

But although Rowling will not appear alongside the original cast in the show, which will go out on New Year’s Day, she has not — and cannot — be airbrushed completely.

Asked about the anniversary plans, Rowling’s publicist Mark Hutchinson told me this week: ‘Jo isn’t commenting at the moment, but on the 20th anniversary retrospective, she will be included via archive material with the approval of her team.’

Note the phrase ‘with the approval of her team’. Warner Bros have to seek consent from Rowling’s agent, Neil Blair, and her team of lawyers for every move they make.

In a similar fashion, the trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which Rowling helped to write, was notable for downplaying the author. The two-minute trailer, released this week, opens: ‘Warner Bros invites you’ and only mentions Rowling in small print in a publishing rights note at the end.

This fulfils a legal requirement — they cannot air the trailer without it, or erase her from the brand, however much it might suit them to do so. Nor, as they were also reminded this week, can they silence her views.

With a timing that would derail most PR campaigns, Rowling returned to the Twitter fray, criticising police rules in Scotland which allow rape suspects to self-identify as women.

In a nod to the ‘doublespeak’ of Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, she wrote: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is A Woman.’

Asked about the anniversary plans, Rowling’s publicist Mark Hutchinson told me this week: ‘Jo isn’t commenting at the moment, but on the 20th anniversary retrospective, she will be included via archive material with the approval of her team’

She is, then, a woman who not only will not loosen her grip on her empire but one who won’t observe a convenient silence.

Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter confirms: ‘The Harry Potter franchise has complicated rights issues . . . Rowling controls the franchise and has a say in everything involving the property.’

This presents continued headaches for Warner Bros, who bought the rights to Potter for a reputed $250 million in 2013.

It now emerges they want to make a live-action Hogwarts TV series — with a $10 million per episode budget. In January this year they quietly started casting about for writers and concepts for the show, which would stream on its TV affiliate HBO. It could go into production as early as next year.

Meanwhile a further two Fantastic Beasts films are planned and a film of the stage play Cursed Child, Rowling’s story of what happens when Harry and Hermione grow up, is also in development.

As ever in this world, riches are in prospect: the Potter films have globally taken more than $7 billion at the cinema, and they continue to make millions from streaming.

In the world of intellectual property, Harry Potter is a megastar.

Scott Mendelson, of Forbes business magazine, comments: ‘Warner Bros wants to stay in the J.K. Rowling business. It still profits from those groundbreakingly huge Harry Potter movies, the first of which snagged $27 million in China just this year.’

As do the youngsters she plucked from nowhere and turned into staggeringly rich household names.

Rowling, who was consulted over every aspect of the eight films, gave the nod to the initial director Christopher Columbus and had the right to approve every actor — which she did. She wept when she saw Radcliffe’s screen test because he was exactly the ‘son’ she had in mind.

She spent months on set helping the cast, and the director, to bring her vision to life. By the time the final films were being shot, her role was such that she was even credited as an executive producer.

Plaudits that will continue to be diminished — all because Rowling stepped into the toxic world of trans dogma. Little did she imagine when she took to Twitter in June 2020 to take issue with the phrase ‘People who menstruate’ the furore that would follow.

She wrote: ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’ There was outrage, led by Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe.

Radcliffe solemnly repeated the mantra ‘transgender women are women’ and said that he hoped Rowling’s venture into gender politics would not taint the books for their fans.

In a statement he said: ‘To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.’

Within hours of Rowling’s tweet about trans women, Emma Watson cast her aside, tweeting: ‘Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.’

Warner Bros also made a statement which largely sided with the woke mob, saying ‘our inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world.’

It threw just a tiny nod to Rowling’s talents, adding: ‘We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all’ before concluding that she was nevertheless in need of educating. We recognise our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.’

Rowling published a lengthy and thoughtful essay, explaining that she is not remotely against trans women. It made no odds, naturally — the abuse continued unabated on social media.

Interestingly, Stephen Fry, the voice of the Harry Potter audio books, did not add his name to those condemning her but even agreed to narrate her more recent book The Ickabog, which was published after the trans row erupted.

When he drew fire for this, he commented: ‘She’s a friend and will remain a friend. But I’m also sorry that people are upset. I don’t have to break links with J.K. Rowling to say that I have huge sympathy and I endorse the efforts of trans people everywhere to live the lives that they feel they want to lead. I recognise the courage it takes.’

Many would argue it also shows considerable personal courage on Rowling’s part to continue with her campaign for free speech.

Three weeks ago, she said that she had received enough death threats to paper her house. She took on three activists who shared her home address on Twitter — asking people to delete the image and adding: ‘Perhaps — and I’m just throwing this out there — the best way to prove your movement isn’t a threat to women, is to stop stalking, harassing and threatening us.’

Her response marked yet another step in Rowling’s evolution from children’s author to feminist icon daring to challenge the extreme trans narrative.

Another case in point is her support of fellow victim of cancel culture Johnny Depp, whom she cast in Fantastic Beasts.

He’s a personal friend of J.K. Rowling’s — he sold her his yacht some time ago and she stuck by him during his lurid divorce from actress Amber Heard.

Rowling, who has spoken about being a victim of domestic abuse during her first marriage, took Depp’s side when others wanted to cancel him for allegedly assaulting Heard.

She said: ‘Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the film-makers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.’

At a time when nobody else wanted to speak up for him, she did. Naturally when he lost a libel action in 2020 after being called a wife-beater, there was a prolonged pause.

On the advice of his lawyers, Depp turned up for work on the set of the Fantastic Beasts film in Leavesden, Herts.

He even shot a scene, before he was ‘asked to resign’ from the role by Warner Bros — it was evident film-goers couldn’t be asked to see him in the role given the evidence of drug use and violence so sensationally rehearsed in the High Court.

The company recast the role but still paid Depp his $16 million fee in full — an extraordinary turn of events which stunned Hollywood.

Why were they so generous to Depp? Many believe that J.K. insisted that they ‘look after’ the actor.

Rowling, who has long enjoyed a reputation for being implacable when it comes to her oeuvre, has proved a surprisingly effective player when it comes to haggling with Hollywood’s power brokers.

In a rare early interview about her role in film-making she said: ‘I have stuck to my guns all the way through.’

In the tale of Harry Potter And The Hollywood Power Struggle, she shows no signs of bowing down to the high priests of today’s pernicious cancel culture any time soon.

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