Ralph Fiennes Defends J.K. Rowling Amid Trans Controversy, Says Backlash Is “Disturbing”

Ralph Fiennes is wading into the heated controversy surrounding J.K. Rowling’s stance on transgender rights.

The actor, who played the villainous Lord Voldemort across four Harry Potter films, expressed sympathy for the franchise author, whose comments have received widespread criticism.

“I can’t understand the vitriol directed at her,” the actor told The Telegraph in an interview published Wednesday. “I can understand the heat of an argument, but I find this age of accusation and the need to condemn irrational. I find the level of hatred that people express about views that differ from theirs, and the violence of language towards others, disturbing.”

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Fiennes split with many of his fellow Harry Potter castmates — including stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint — who have reacted to the uproar by issuing statements of support for the trans community.

The controversy began in June 2020, when the author first tweeted about an op-ed piece regarding “people who menstruate” and mocked the story for not using the word “women.” The tweet generated backlash, which promoted the author to repeatedly and ever more adamantly defend herself and elaborate on her views in a lengthy essay.

In essence, the author insists, “I know and love trans people,” and that she’s “been empathetic to trans people for decades,” yet also strongly criticizes the use of hormones and surgery in young people (“Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalization that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function”), fears the rights of cis women are being overlooked (“When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman, … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside”), and claims she’s been subjected to online abuse for her views. Rowling’s latest novel, Troubled Blood, then raised eyebrows in September as it followed a detective hunting a male serial killer who dresses as a woman.

GLAAD has countered Rowling with the following statement, among others: “It seems J.K. is good at only one thing: writing fantasy. Her misinformed and dangerous missive about transgender people flies in the face of medical and psychological experts and devalues trans people accounts of their own lives. She is sowing divisiveness in a time when real leaders are driving toward unity. And to all the trans and cisgender youth raised on her books who are now loudly speaking up in support of the trans people you know and love, you are the future and we can’t wait to read and watch the beautiful art you will create.”

The Harry Potter actors have avoided the specifics of the debate, but issued statements of trans community support in reaction to the controversy.

Radcliffe has stated, “I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself, but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now. … Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. … 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. … And in my opinion, nobody can touch that.”

Added Watson: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you, and love you for who you are.”

Chimed in Grint: “I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men.”

Warner Bros., which is making the third Fantastic Beasts film, co-written by Rowling, likewise put out a statement last year in response: “The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues. 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.”