The lack of women behind the camera in the Harry Potter series is an alarming but solvable problem.
Despite years of bloodshed and sacrifice, the moment that truly cements Harry Potter’s heroic status comes quite near the end of the film franchise, during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. During a temporary truce in the Battle of Hogwarts, Lord Voldemort promises to spare everyone in the castle if Harry walks into the forest and turns himself over. Already faced with so much death, Harry obliges, turning over the Resurrection Stone in his hands and receiving encouragement from his dead parents and godfather. Lest we forget, this orphan is a teenager, taking a long walk to meet death face to face. Goddamn, Harry is brave.
It’s a powerful scene seated inside of David Yates’ masterful run as director on the last batch of Potter films, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix right until the end. Although the films inevitably take their cues from J.K. Rowling’s beloved source material, they underwent a significant tonal shift under Yates, becoming darker and more mature. There is palpable danger and tension in the air in both Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as Voldemort’s return and rise back to power has infiltrated both Hogwarts and the entire magical community. We can never go back to the warm wonder of the first two films, directed by Chris Columbus. Harry is angsty, death is indiscriminate and the entire color palate of the films becomes colder and darker. It works perfectly.
With a series so beloved by fans and so financially significant to Warner Brothers as the Harry Potter universe, it seems a no-brained that executive producer David Heyman would turn once again to Yates, who oversaw the highest grossing Potter film with Deathly Hallows – Part 2, to helm the latest Potter project, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Yates was thrilled at the prospect of being able to start the film from the beginning, as he was unable to get involved with casting or set the tone of the series when taking on Order of the Phoenix. Working with a screenplay direct from Rowling herself, in the author’s screenwriting debut, Yates signed on and directed the much-hyped and well-reviewed film that opens across the country tomorrow.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based on one of the textbooks used by Potter in the books as well as the film series, during Care of Magical Creatures classes. Rowling’s faux textbook showcased the depth of the magical world she has created and under the pseudonym of Newt Scamander, Rowling detailed fictitious marvels from across the hidden magical world. The spin-off film takes viewers back to 1920s New York City, long before Harry or the textbook exist. Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, then just an employee at the Ministry of Magic, causes mayhem in New York City with a suitcase full of magic creatures and proceeds to have adventures in the city’s secret wizarding community, which is also being hunted down by a group known as the Second Salemers, who believe in literal witch hunting.
Naturally, with a series this lucrative and with a mind as expansive and prolific as Rowling’s, the possibility of a sequel came into question. Initially, a trilogy was announced, as Rowling had already written a second screenplay and had been outlining a third film. But just last month, this was expanded to five films and then the series announced the addition of Johnny Depp, who was revealed to be playing Gellert Grindelwald, Dumbledore’s close adolescent friend and unrequited crush who later becomes one of the most powerful and dangerous Dark Wizards before the rise of Voldemort. It’s increasingly likely that the films will color in even more details to the expansive Wizarding World and flesh out the backstories tossed around in the Potter series. Not quite a prequel, but close enough and certainly five films most fans will gladly fork over money to see.
But just this week, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Yates would be directing all five Fantastic Beasts films. While it still has not been officially confirmed, at the film’s world premiere last week, Yates told THR that he had committed to directing the entire series, confirming that he had read Rowling’s script for the second film already. While the prospect of five films penned directly by Rowling is an exciting one, Yates’ unofficial revelation should cause some concern. While the film series is undoubtedly in capable hands for the next decade, the decision also feels nepotistic, particularly in light of the film industry’s very public problem with inequality behind the camera.
As of tomorrow, we will have nine films depicting Rowling’s Wizarding World and none of them will have a female director. If Yates’ statement becomes official, that will bring the total up to thirteen films. As recent comic book films have proven, there are no guaranteed successes in the industry but helming a Harry Potter prequel is probably as close as a director will get. It’s a career-defining moment, a chance to work with premiere talent within an intricate, established universe, a pre-packaged how-to guide to directing a blockbuster.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s a universe that was created by a down-on-her-luck single mother who was turned down by countless publishers who didn’t see the value in her scrappy orphan. In the end, guess who was right? Beyond being a modern day Cinderella story, Rowling’s success also begs the question that if something so beloved can come out of the tireless mind of one woman, why shouldn’t the cinematic vision be birthed from the mind of another? On the heels of the recent Presidential election and a yet to be shattered glass ceiling, four more films without a female director calling the shots doesn’t just feel stifling and unfair, it feels as if the ranks have been closed once again. It’s a disservice to the countless girls who grew up with Hermoine as a role model, who saw their own value through her importance. But even more so, it betrays Rowling’s Wizarding World, one that stresses equality, a battle fought and ultimately won in large part by the marginalized.
I’m incredibly excited to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this weekend and I wish David Yates nothing but success for opening weekend. But I sincerely hope the film’s producers reconsider their plans going forward and consider opening a door to some of the countless female directors who might breathe new life and magic into a series that at its very core, champions their talent and their value.