This past month, TikTok celebrated an important anniversary: One year since the emergence of #DracoTok.
Yes, you heard me right — a year ago there were over 20 billion people in the midst of quarantine dedicating their free time to thirsting over Draco Malfoy on the internet. Creators showed their talents by editing themselves into movie scenes, often imagining what it might be like to be in a romantic relationship with the blonde baddie.
While it was Draco who started it all, content gradually expanded to the entire Harry Potter universe.
Movie marathons were transformed into elaborate parties that were meticulously documented for viewers. Copycat recipes for Butterbeer were aplenty, each one a little different, but just as delicious. Some of my favorite videos assigned different Bath and Body Works candles to each of the characters based on how people thought they would smell — mahogany apple for Draco, salted butterscotch for Ron, the list goes on.
Perhaps the greatest example of fans’ undying love for the series is seen in the idea of “shifting realities,” in which people believe an intense form of lucid dreaming allows you to enter an alternate universe where Hogwarts really exists. (If this sounds baffling to you, you’re not the only one.) No matter the content, each video featured one of several trademark songs that even now serve as a source of genuine happiness for fans.
While these videos took the internet by storm, the Harry Potter community found itself dealing with another battle. In June 2020, the author of the series, J.K. Rowling, posted a tweet mocking the use of “people who menstruate” as a headline, instead of ‘women.’ Rowling was met with negative criticism but doubled down on her transphobic comments, resulting in several HP stars speaking out against her harmful statements. Fans of all ages and backgrounds took the tweets personally, hurt by the fact that they came from an author who had been responsible for shaping their childhoods. Some even eradicated the series from their lives entirely.
Rowling’s TERFy tweets led fans to notice other exclusionary elements of the franchise. The lack of notable characters of color is a glaringly obvious example. In the movies, there are about ten total; only two have prominent storylines but even then are vastly underdeveloped compared to their countless white counterparts.
There are no LGBTQ+ characters in the canon, either. Dumbledore was confirmed to be gay by Rowling after the series already finished; fans believed the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise would rectify this aspect of the character, but that has yet to happen. Beyond that, several storylines rely on harmful stereotypes, like the house-elves who “enjoy slavery” and the goblin bankers whose depiction relies on anti-Semitic stereotypes.
So why, after all these problems have been exposed, does the series still bring comfort to so many people? How is it still getting such positive media attention?
I think the answer lies in TikTok’s deviation from the original source material. Many creators of Harry Potter content took diversity into their own hands and imagined what certain storylines would look like with more of the positive representation the series is desperately missing. Popular videos include inserting oneself into a bisexual relationship with Hermione or imagining what the series would look like with more developed characters of color. User nringin created her own characters, imagining herself as either Blair, the younger sister of Slytherin Blaise Zabini, or Roxanne, the daughter of George Weasley and Angelina Johnson.
Outside of TikTok, this shift away from the canon is so vast that fans even accept common fan fiction storylines as elements of the original. No matter the reinvention, if it’s diverse and well-intentioned it is usually well-received within the community.
Harry Potter content still occasionally crosses my “For You” page, and I see much more discussion among creators on the app who make it known that they stand with the communities Rowling has harmed. Some take a more humorous approach, making fun of the stereotypes of canonical minority characters. Others refuse to acknowledge Rowling at all, instead claiming Daniel Radcliffe as the true author of the books.
But all jokes aside, is separating the art from the artist enough? Or is it still problematic to promote the series on social media and therefore give Rowling more positive attention, and probably revenue?
Some viewers say no. They’re understandably disappointed by the author’s actions and think that promoting Harry Potter means continuing to support Rowling. If you claim to stand with the trans community but still actively consume Harry Potter content, some say that’s even worse.
Here is where I struggle. I do not support anything Rowling has said that has harmed the LGBTQ+ community, and I understand that some people in this community may have done away with the series entirely as a result of her tweets. Still, I find love, joy and my childhood in the series and do not plan on giving it up any time soon. However, if I am to continue to positively promote Harry Potter, I will be sure to acknowledge the problematic, harmful and minimizing elements of the series, as well as ending any financial support toward Rowling in any way. Hopefully, anyone who sees my videos would be encouraged to do the same.
What began as an escape from lockdown had grown into a whole movement. The gorgeous exterior shots of Hogwarts castle paired with the trending music perfectly matched the fall season in which #HPTikTok content was so popular. Even now, a full year later, fans feel a strong sense of nostalgia for the happiness they found in the darkest of times. Will we see the comeback everyone is hoping for? And will the trend of making the series more inclusive continue?
That remains to be seen, but at least this renaissance proves that the things we love never truly leave us.
Daily Arts Contributor Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at email@example.com.