The newest installment in the Harry Potter universe of films, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (or just plain Fantastic Beasts 3) has been censored to comply with Chinese government requirements. While the statement released by Warner Bros (which produced the film) is somewhat vague about why the film has been censored, they were very specific that only six seconds of the completed film were removed to be compliant with “local requirements” and the spirit of the film was not reduced. In particular, the six seconds identified as having been removed all involve the romantic relationship between Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelson). The Chinese government has a long history of censoring depictions or mentions of LGBTQ issues and people in media, and no anti-discrimination laws against them. Here is Warner Bros’ statement on the matter:
As a studio, we’re committed to safeguarding the integrity of every film we release, and that extends to circumstances that necessitate making nuanced cuts in order to respond sensitively to a variety of in-market factors. Our hope is to release our features worldwide as released by their creators but historically we have faced small edits made in local markets.
Reportedly, the material excised from Fantastic Beasts 3 for release in China included the phrases “because I was in love with you,” and “the summer Gellert and I fell in love,” and “Who will you love now?” A key element in the Fantastic Beasts series (which is a prequel to the Harry Potter series of films starring Daniel Radcliffe) is the romantic relationship between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. While the two men were in a relationship at an earlier point in their life, by the time of this film, they have found themselves on opposing sides of a quasi-fascist magical war. The nature of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship was only hinted at in the original books by J.K. Rowling; however, the author later revealed at a book reading in 2007 that it was romantic in nature. At the time, she was both applauded and criticized for this reveal, which was seen as both a step forward for LGBTQ representation and a disappointment for not being included in the actual narrative of the books. Since then, Rowling has grown only more controversial in the global LGBTQ community.
Fantastic Beasts 3 is just the most recent film to be caught between two opposing forces. On one side, Hollywood is being called out more than ever for its historical lack of representation in non-white, non-cis, non-straight roles both in front of and behind the camera. While major companies like Disney are making pledges to diversify their offerings (probably not coincidentally after massive protests and walkouts), there is still a long way to go. On the other hand, China has overtaken the United States as the single largest box office market in the world and has made it clear that LGBTQ representation will not make it through their national boards of censors. It is notable that all it took to comply with Chinese censors was removing six seconds out of a 142-minute film. It can be inferred that to some degree, American films are already being constructed to meet those standards with minimal editing, even if that does not seem to line up with a central theme of the material being presented. Fantastic Beasts 3 is set to be released in the United States on April 15, and we will have to see how the un-edited version goes over here.