The Warner Bros. water tower lit up in blue on April 16, 2020 in support of healthcare workers in the novel coronavirus pandemic, a gesture as performatively empty as the studio’s new statement about J.K. Rowling.
The Warner Bros. water tower lit up in blue on April 16, 2020 in support of healthcare workers in the novel coronavirus pandemic, a gesture as performatively empty as the studio’s new statement about J.K. Rowling.
Image: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

To say that Warner Bros. released a statement about J.K. Rowling’s recent and ongoing response to accusations of transphobia would be, well, an overstatement. Because at this point I’ve read it enough times that I’m not even sure it’s words anymore.

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For the three days after Rowling once again stoked anger over her transphobic dog-whistling on social media—anger so profound that the stars of both iterations of her Potter movie franchises, as well as several members of the wider cast, called her out on her rhetoric—Warner Bros., the studio behind those franchises, continued to stay abnormally silent. And that’s even after anger grew and Rowling put out her own, completely off-the-deep-end essay entrenching her views.

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That is, until late last night, when the company reached out to Variety to offer... this?

“The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues,” The studio’s statement began. “Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world. We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.”

It is far too diplomatic to say that this is a statement Warner Bros. released about J.K. Rowling’s transphobic commentary. It’s diplomatic, frankly, to say that it’s a statement about anything at all. (As a reminder, io9 reached out to WB multiple times over the course of the last week and did not receive a statement from the studio.) Not once does this statement Warner released actually mention Rowling. Not once does it mention transgender people who have been hurt by her actions. Hell, it doesn’t even mention LGBTQ+ people in general! It’s public relations as a game of Mad Libs, an insipid, empty stream of words strung together to perform the spectacular act of saying absolutely nothing at all.

It does say the company is committed to content, so thank god for that, I guess.

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To dance around the specificity of the matter, even as people like Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson, and more speak out about Rowling’s own words is complete cowardice at any time. Although Universal—which licenses Harry Potter from Warner to use in its theme parks—and Rowling’s U.S. publisher, Scholastic, released their own statements on the matter that were likewise as empty, at least they were more active in addressing Rowling’s commentary. Hell, Scholastic even went and named her! But what makes Warner Bros.’ purported response all the more damningly terrible is the context of the current moment the world finds itself in, not just in regards to bigotry against queer people of all spectrums in solidarity with Pride month, but the ongoing conversation about police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

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Floyd’s killing has sparked a worldwide outpouring of anger and protests. And with it, an unprecedented sea change of corporations and brands acknowledging that anger and systemic bigotry in statement after statement, declaring full-throated support for anti-racism movements (even if a lot of those statements have yet to be backed up by meaningful action, as far as Hollywood studios are concerned). Days after countless other companies made public statements, WarnerMedia announced that, in addition to donations, it would give airtime and an online platform to Color Of Change and NAACP—as well as add $500,000 to its OneFifty program, which seeds “issue-focused creative ideas from communities who often go unheard.”

As the world casts a more skeptical, scrutinous eye at massive corporations putting their actions—and more importantly their capital—behind those words, for Warner Bros. to put out something so meaningless in response to the Rowling controversy that it does not even name the thing it is supposedly a statement on is almost as insulting as staying silent. Which it also did, in the three days it took to craft what can loosely be termed “a response.”

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You know those memes that have been going around in response to companies and brands that have released anti-racism statements that don’t actually commit to enacting change—a white-text-on-black background of a generic statement littered with empty clauses, to highlight how truly empty those statements are? Warner Bros. basically did that, and had the audacity to not even fill in the blanks.

Warner Bros. cannot say that it is committed to “all communities and all people” when it is unwilling to even specifically address communities harmed by the people it gives money to. It cannot say it has “firmed our resolve” to “confront difficult societal issues,” when it cannot even name the societal issues it is attempting to confront. It cannot say that its position on inclusivity is “well established” if it doesn’t even have the strength to re-state it when a creative it employs sparks widespread outrage for penning an essay where she ponders that allowing trans people to exist will make her scared to use public bathrooms.

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Warner Bros. didn’t release a statement about Rowling’s commentary. It didn’t release a statement on anything. As anger and more meaningful responses continue to pour out over Rowling, the studio’s inability to do the bare minimum in response is shameful. Who thought any of this would solve anything?

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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