TikTok is reclaiming Harry Potter because JK Rowling ruined it

DracoTok will always be there to welcome you home.

by Elmira Tanatarova
22 September 2020, 10:43am

It might feel like eons ago that everyone was making fun of millennials for caring too much about their Hogwarts houses (it was in fact, only a few months back), but it seems Gen Z has done what it does best — reclaimed a pop culture trend and made it cool again via TikTok.

Over the past few weeks, everyone’s FYP has become a little less densely populated by the WAP dance and instead taken been over by a serious thirst for Draco Malfoy, portrayed in the Harry Potter film series by noughties teen heartthrob Tom Felton. In a movement quickly dubbed “DracoTok”, users began to post edits of the young actor as Malfoy to show his “glow-up” as well as POV-style videos in which the creator is in some way involved in a conversation with the character (usually romantically).

Since exploding in popularity, the trend has moved beyond the simple thirst for Malfoy. Harry Potter POVs are being created with other male characters (George Weasley, Cedric Diggory and Ron Weasley), and elaborate scenarios ranging from love triangles, Amortentia potions and sneaking around after hours. There’s even a viral TikTok which speculates whether or not Neville Longbottom is a BLM supporter.

Ella-Ray Scotland-Wynn (@godofstars), a 15-year-old art student from London, has been at the helm of this trend, amassing over 134k followers on the app with POV videos which range from being at the Yule Ball to a prank on Ginny Weasley gone wrong.  “Near the end of summer, I decided to re-watch the movies and noticed that my FYP on TikTok was occasionally being filled with Harry Potter-inspired videos. There was something about the aesthetic of these videos that I loved, and I really desperately wanted to give it a try,” she says.

“After posting three within the same hour and all of them very quickly gaining more and more views, I discovered everyone seemed to really love that content. It’s a very fun process, truly, and I’ve become friends with some really talented, funny people through making them.”

Ella’s videos can get as many as 1.7m likes, something she believes is down to their nostalgic value. “I think quarantine made people uneasy and took a turn on a lot of people’s mental health,” she says. “So it was a case of taking a trip down memory lane, to before all this. Going back to these classic movies and books allows us to feel familiarity and comfort, reminding us of how big of a role something as small as a movie can play in who we are.”

She also suggests that the sudden emergence of DracoTok is pretty standard-issue for the app: “TikTok is a funny place because every so often a new movie or character or celebrity will be trending, and people will just group together for a while and bond over that subject. Making friends with people all over the world because you have a common interest can really make your day, especially at the height of quarantine.”

That may be the case, but nonetheless, the sudden popularity of Harry Potter — which follows the renaissance of Twilight on TikTok over this past summer — comes at a strange time. The series has been back in the headlines recently, thanks not to the content of the fantasy world, but instead the hateful and controversial comments of its creator. The author JK Rowling, in recent times, has reinvented herself as a mouthpiece for transphobia and harmful discourse on gender identity. The turnaround has not been welcomed in the fandom, and has even led most of the cast to speak out against the author. Last month, Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry, apologised on Rowling’s behalf, saying: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you.”

“Transgender women are women,” he added. “Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people.”

So against that dodgy and depressing backdrop, why is the “Hogwarts’ March” theme suddenly all over your FYP? Well, it points to the autonomy of the stan community, and its independence from its source material. The fandom has taken Harry Potter to a universe that’s beyond JK Rowling. This is bigger than DracoTok or wanting to know what house you’d get sorted into. This is about reclaiming a world that was so magical for so many, only to be disenchanted by it, and its creator, as the years go on.

Lizzy (@heyitsbethy._), a 16-year-old high school student from Queensland, Australia, has managed to separate her love of Harry Potter from the the creator behind it. Lizzy’s Potterhead POV videos have over 1.1million likes, but being a part of the fandom has required some mental gymnastics. “I believe people should just say that Daniel Radcliffe wrote the books,” she says. “I’m honestly so heartbroken about JK Rowling’s transphobia but it will never wreck the books or movies for me. It’s really sad to see people stop their love of Harry Potter for her but I understand if they do. It’s just sad to see how much she’s damaged the community.”

burning harry potter books on a pyre

While some are distancing themselves from the author, others are going further. In some viral TikToks, users are even seen burning their copies of the fantasy series. User @elmcdo, whose account is private, has since removed a video going viral in which they burn Harry Potter books while the voiceover says: “You have to stop using ‘death of the author’ as an excuse to have your cake and eat it, too. While the reader’s perspective is an important part of interpretation and meaning, it is impossible to completely divorce a work from its creator.”

“The positive impact that JK Rowling’s work has had on millions of readers does not negate how her hateful lobbying has affected the trans community,” @elmcdo continues. “This doesn’t even touch on the harmful fatphobia, racism, and valorisation of supremacists and child abusers in her most famous work. Your love of Harry Potter is not more important than the lives of trans women.”

But TikToker and fan Sarah, a 23-year-old Londoner, has a more nuanced perspective. “I think that the Harry Potter books and films belong to the fans now, and not the author,” she argues. “The books and films are far from perfect, and as I get older, I realise that a lot of flaws exist within the series. I do think fans should hold JK Rowling accountable for that.”

And generally speaking, they do. Interspersed with the thirsty TikToks and POV videos are a number of clips that call into question Rowling’s characterisation and lazy writing style, one which frequently relies on harmful stereotyping, especially when the characters are Black or Asian.

“With apps like TikTok, fans are able to have those discussions while also being able to talk about how much they love the series,” Sarah adds. “That’s important, because at the end of the day, the Harry Potter universe is still such a source of joy and a means of escape for so many of us.”

In a way, DracoTok perfectly encapsulates the tricky situation Harry Potter fans find themselves facing: Draco Malfoy is a problematic character with little to no redemption arc, and yet people can’t help but love him. In the same vein, fans of the series, particularly if they once found comfort in the fantasy world JK Rowling created, can’t help but love it even if the person who brought it into the world is letting it down.

TikTok has given a number of second lives to movie franchises during lockdown (Twilight, as mentioned, still remains hugely popular, and Avatar: The Last Airbender has been having a renaissance too) but it’s Harry Potter that is notable in its unique hardiness. A whole 23 years after the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published — even with a growing disconnect from a hateful creator — it continues to inspire fan content.

“The Harry Potter series means so much to so many people, and to some feels more like home than home,” Ella says. “These characters aren’t just characters anymore, they’re real, we grew up alongside them… as silly as it sounds, sometimes fictional characters are our break from real people.” Perhaps TikTok is simply another Horcrux keeping it alive.

harry potter
JK Rowling