The demands of transgender activists and other progressives for Warner Bros. to stop producing films based on the fictional worlds of author J.K. Rowling, and for the studio to dissociate itself officially from Rowling and her work, are among the latest efforts to censor viewpoints and sources by exerting enormous public pressure on the corporations behind them, experts on censorship say.
For corporations, the reputational and financial costs of failing to comply with such demands run so high that they cannot afford to ignore them, they say. For activists, such “community censorship” can prove an effective way around the protections that the First Amendment confers on controversial speech.
Rowling—the author of the seven “Harry Potter” books that have sold more than half a billion copies worldwide and given rise to a $7.7 billion cinematic franchise—has come under attack for public statements insisting on the reality of sex differences and for comments labeled transphobic by her critics.
After the firing of a researcher from a British think tank in 2019 for posting on Twitter that “it is impossible to change sex,” Rowling came to the researcher’s defense with tweets questioning whether women should be forced out of their jobs “for stating that sex is real.”
These public stances have stirred up online mobs against Rowling. One of the latest salvos in the controversy is a June 13 opinion piece in Newsweek written by Fox Fisher, who is identified in the author’s bio as “a brown, queer, pansexual, non-binary, trans masculine artist, author, filmmaker, and educator.”
Fisher says that “it’s been difficult to get excited about any new films because of the anti-trans views of the writer. The big question is how Warner Bros., the studio behind the films, can square its patronage of J.K. Rowling with an increasingly vigilant Potter fan base.”
Acknowledging that Warner Bros. has taken modest steps in the past to chasten Rowling, who was mostly absent from the recent 25th-anniversary celebrations of the film franchise, Fisher complains about a statement released by the studio calling Rowling “one of the world’s most accomplished storytellers.”
Denouncing Rowling for a stance that “fuels the current moral panic happening in the U.K. n trans rights,” Fisher calls on the studio not to have anything to do with Rowling, and even to castigate her in the strongest and most public way.
“Warner should publicly denounce her, buy her out of the films or even decide not to make any more while she remains at the helm of the franchise,” Fisher writes, before concluding that the studio’s association with Rowling “will never sit well with trans people and their allies, and their voices are becoming louder.”