With ‘Harry Potter’ reunion, HBO finds itself between J.K. Rowling and a hard place

"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling in a green dress.
“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling at the world premiere of the film “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” in Paris.
(Christophe Ena / AP)

When HBO announced its upcoming reunion special “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts,” the star-studded lineup did not include You-Know-Who.

In the weeks leading up to the highly anticipated program, streaming New Year’s Day on HBO Max, not a single teaser, trailer or poster has featured “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who has come under fire in recent years for repeatedly expressing anti-transgender views.

Despite her absence from HBO’s marketing campaign, however, Rowling does appear in the special, which samples footage from a 2019 interview with her. The archival clips of Rowling are fleeting, accounting for less than 30 seconds of the nearly two-hour-long show.


An HBO spokesperson told The Times that Rowling was invited to do a new interview but that producers felt the previously captured footage was adequate. HBO did not respond to requests for clarification as to whether Rowling declined the interview or filmed a new interview that producers then decided to leave out of the special. The special’s executive producer, Casey Patterson, was not available for comment.

Rowling is also name-checked throughout by “Harry Potter” filmmakers and cast members, several of whom have spoken out against Rowling’s transphobic remarks in the past.

For the first time since 2011, ‘Harry Potter’ stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint will publicly reunite for an HBO Max special.

Nov. 16, 2021

Spotlighted most heavily in the production, of course, are Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), who have all made statements supporting the trans community in rebuke of Rowling’s comments.

“Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe said last year. “Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either [Rowling] or I.”

“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,” echoed Watson. “I want my trans followers to know that I ... see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”

Daniel Radcliffe, who played the titular boy wizard in all eight “Harry Potter” films, has responded to J.K. Rowling’s tweets widely condemned as transphobic.

June 9, 2020

No mention is made of the Rowling controversy in the special, which first cuts to the British writer around the eight-minute mark, and then again about a minute later. While discussing the challenge of casting the titular boy wizard, Rowling recalls feeling “panicky” because “we just couldn’t find Harry” — until Radcliffe arrived.


“It was very emotional, actually, seeing this kid sitting there, talking,” she says. “And I just thought, ‘Yep, that’s him. Thank God we found him.’”

Rowling doesn’t show up again until about 19 minutes in to describe the “mind-blowing” experience of walking through Hogwarts’ Great Hall on the set of the first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

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June 10, 2020

Her final appearance comes toward the end of the special, which sees cast and creatives reflecting on the lasting legacy of the franchise.

“I have found it an extraordinary world to be involved with,” she says. “And it’s a beautiful world.”

Though Rowling occupies little screen time over the course of the special, “Jo” does come up in conversations about her creative input on the movies and the cultural impact of the “Harry Potter” books.

For example: “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” director Chris Columbus talks about meeting with Rowling to share his “vision” for the flagship film; Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) recalls Rowling personally reassuring her of her character’s importance; and Radcliffe reveals that only the late Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) could persuade Rowling to divulge plot details from the later novels before they were published.


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June 11, 2020

More than 20 years after “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” hit theaters, Rowling’s anti-trans rhetoric has continued to fuel discourse about separating art from the artist — a concept Radcliffe touched on while declaring his loyalty to the trans community last year:

“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,” he said.

“I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. ... If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that.”