The book community, no matter how wholesome it is considered, is no stranger to problematic behaviour. From authors, to bookish shops, to movie adaptations, the community seems to be almost perpetually riddled with controversy.
One of the most highly regarded, yet incredibly problematic authors is JK Rowling. JK, of course, wrote the hugely successful Harry Potter series, plus two (one terrible and one wonderful) spinoffs. The world of Harry Potter is loved by many, but the author’s behaviour is not. For example, she is constantly attempting to shoehorn diversity into books which were not written as overtly diverse. This behaviour simply brings to the forefront how problematic the books are to begin with. But more than that, Rowling further perpetuates her questionable behaviour by seemingly gaslighting the community: in trying to act as though the books were openly something which they are not. (She is quoted as saying in a fan panel ‘if I’d known [black Hermione] would have made you this happy, I would have told you sooner!’). Unless you explicitly write a character as gay, or black, I do not believe that you should tell your readers “oh I left this out in the books, but…” and eagerly accept the praise for it. If you want praise for diversity, you have to write diverse characters to begin with.
But more than Rowling’s manipulation is her support of Johnny Depp, an alleged domestic abuser, in her Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise (and before I get 100 people telling me how he was never found guilty for this, and how his ex-wife lied; Amber Heard settled the case, but she never redacted her statement. The accusations still stand. I won’t argue with people about this). As a self-proclaimed feminist, Rowling’s behaviour is completely unacceptable. I adore Newt Scamander and his beasts, but I simply cannot support the movies: I cannot support a film, aimed towards children, that an alleged physical and emotional abuser is paid a huge amount to star in. Why is it okay for someone who has received these serious accusations (and a restraining order) to star in the same film franchise where another actor was dropped from a film for growing marijuana?
It is not as if it is impossible to remove someone from a film. After several allegations of sexual abuse, Kevin Spacey was replaced in a film with the actor Christopher Plummer, and all of his scenes were re-shot. So why is this supposedly ‘feminist role model’ complicit in allowing Johnny Depp to star in her movies?
Like Spacey, after sexual abuse allegations, Maze Runner author James Dashner was dropped by his US publisher, Penguin Random House. Good. But after several problematic moments from other authors (such as John Green and Maggie Steifvater), they are still supported and revered in the community. For example, Roald Dahl is still seen as a wholesome favourite and his books are still bought by libraries and distributed to children, despite his known anti-Semitic views.
Closer to home in the bookish community, a popular store was discovered to have plagiarised a fair amount of their products. After being called out for this behaviour, there was no public apology, the items were just removed from the site. The many people who have bought these items deserved an apology. The artists deserved one. But one was not given. Several of the shop’s reps continued posting to advertise the shop, and people continue to buy from there. This complicity in the face of not just immoral, but illegal, activity suggests a blasé attitude towards the rights of original creators, simply because something is pretty.
So how far can we separate a creator from their work? I still love Harry Potter, and Roald Dahl’s books are hugely nostalgic for me, but the realisation that the authors hold such problematic beliefs has tainted them. Is a piece if work implicitly a part of its creator? Does lining the pockets of these problematic authors have a profound immorality? Or can we seperate an author from the books they have created?
Of course, supporting problematic writers does not mean that we share the same problematic beliefs as them, but it does suggest a more implicit acceptance of their thoughts and actions. Although we outwardly condemn a person for having racist, homophobic, or misogynistic views, by simply letting them continue to produce work because of our support gives them the impression that they can say what they want and still be successful. And in a way, this is true. Perhaps it’s time to stop allowing these creators to thrive, and let them face the consequences for their actions.