Like many children of the early aughts, I grew up with Harry Potter books and movies; they played a significant role in my childhood. So, when “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” dropped on HBO Max this past weekend, I eagerly watched the nearly two-hour documentary in one sitting. I was thrilled to engage with the nostalgia factor (which definitely lived up to my expectations), but I was also watching to see how the filmmakers would engage with recent pushback against author J.K. Rowling — namely, Rowling’s gross attitude towards the trans community and particularly transgender women, and the antisemitic overtones of the goblins who run Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
To my non-surprise, the filmmakers did not touch on either issue — though J.K. Rowling was very conspicuously not interviewed for the project. There was, however, a brief moment when Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter himself, sat down with Helena Bonham Carter (who played Bellatrix Lestrange) on the set of Gringotts. As the two hugged and chatted, Bonham Carter playfully went around the banking window to see if she could sit atop one of lofted wooden desks. In the process of doing this, Radcliffe and Bonham Carter were surprised by the dummies of two Gringotts goblins still stored underneath it.
While I enjoyed seeing the chummy Radcliffe and Bonham Carter interact, it was a bit haunting to see the big-eared, pointy-noised, sharp-teethed and clawed goblins in such a cheerful context.
My disappointment lessened when I came across this recent clip of Jon Stewart discussing the goblins on an episode of the podcast for his show “The Problem with Jon Stewart.”
— raf (@rafaelshimunov) January 3, 2022
In the clip, Stewart explains the decadence of some b’nai mitzvah parties to “The Problem” writers Jay Jurden and Henrik Blix with the line, “It’s basically like saying, the Jews have arrived. And we are going to dazzle you.”
To which Jurden playfully replied, “What chapter of Harry Potter is that in? That’s when they get to Gringotts, right?”
What proceeds is Stewart thoughtfully explaining how, in his view, the goblins in Gringotts bank are a sign of how little progress has been made in eradicating antisemitism. He also goes on to speak about what it’s been like for him to have to explain to people that the Harry Potter goblins are antisemitic — and his reaction to seeing them for the first time.
“It was one of those things where I saw [the goblins] on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like, holy shit! She did not, in a wizarding world, just throw Jews in there to run the fucking underground bank. And everyone was just like, wizards!”
This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone in the entertainment industry, let alone someone with as high a profile as Jon Stewart, discuss the flagrant antisemitic inspiration for these characters. Though I think non-Jewish celebrities should also be addressing antisemitism in entertainment, Stewart’s point was deeply refreshing and absolutely resonated with me.
As an adult, I’m trying to strike the right balance between feeling love for Harry Potter and also acknowledging the intentional and unintentional harm perpetrated by J.K. Rowling that undercut this relic of my childhood. Hearing someone like Jon Stewart actually address the issue, I’m glad to know I’m not alone.