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The Uncancelling of J.K. Rowling? "Harry Potter" Series Coming to HBO Max
The announcement follows anti-mob actions by Netflix and "The New York Times"
Cultural juggernauts like Netflix and The New York Times are more likely to support Twitter’s worldview than challenge it. Yet both have recently revealed some refreshing dissident streaks.
Now a third powerhouse comes along poised to do the same.
HBO Max has announced plans to team up with Twitter villain J.K. Rowling to produce a new series based on the author’s ultra-popular Harry Potter books. The decision might lead to the eventual uncancelling of Rowling, and it also represents the latest in a series of blows to cancel culture itself.
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First came Netflix.
Last year the company faced its own Rowling-like storm—activists and some employees accused a fabulously successful entertainer of transphobia. Would execs stand by Dave Chappelle and his comedy special The Closer or would they buckle and pull the show?
Not only did the company take a stand for Chappelle (and the mountain of money he makes them), execs also took a stand for artistic expression.
Here’s how The Wall Street Journal put it last May:
Netflix has a new message for its employees: Be prepared to work on content you may not agree with. And if you don’t like that, you can quit.
In an update to its culture guidelines, the streaming giant added a section called “artistic expression” which details how the company offers an array of programming for many audiences.
“We let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices,” Netflix says in the updated part of its culture memo. The company added that it supports offering diversity in stories, “even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values.”
“Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful,” Netflix says. “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
No groveling. No promise to “do better.” No apology cribbed from the last dozen corporate confessions.
Then came The New York Times.
In February, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) sent The Times an open letter, signed by dozens of luminaries including Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, calling out the paper’s supposedly “irresponsible, biased coverage of transgender people.”
The Times from three years ago might have fallen into spasms of self flagellation.
Recall that the paper nearly imploded after it published an op-ed by a sitting United States senator. Staffers revolted and leadership caved, publicly disavowing the piece and forcing the editorial page editor to resign.
But this year The Times responded to the open letter, not with an apology, but with fortitude.
Executive Editor Joe Kahn issued a memo to staff explaining that the paper does “not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”
Now it’s HBO Max’s turn.
In more sober times, the news that a big entertainment company is going to partner with the world’s most successful author would be seen as one of the safest, most corporate moves imaginable. But today the decision feels a tad revolutionary.
Deadline reports that the HBO Max Harry Potter series will be produced by Warner Bros Television. Each season of the series will focus on one of the seven Harry Potter books, and the once untouchable J.K. Rowling is in talks to come aboard as a producer.
Yes, of course there’s a backlash.
We’ll see how well Twitter represents real life, but the examples provided by Netflix and The New York Times probably make it easier for HBO Max’s corporate parent Warner Bros Discovery to stand by its new series.
It takes courage to be one of the first to stand against the mob. Less and less courage is required of those who follow. Since the entertainment industry is known more for herd behavior than courage, that’s good news for those of us rooting for free expression.
Ted Balaker is a filmmaker, and former network newser and think tanker. His recent work includes “Little Pink House”starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn, “Can We Take a Joke?” featuring Gilbert Gottfried and Penn Jillette, and a forthcoming feature documentary based on the bestselling book, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.