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Harry Potter actress told to ignore racist comments

Picture from Warner Bros

Katie Leung, the actress who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies, revealed on the Chinese Chippy Girl podcast her publicists’ instructions to ignore racist comments and hate sites she read online.

She discovered the vitriol the Harry Potter fandom directed towards her casting one day while she was googling herself.

“During that time, it was the kind of rise of the internet and fandoms and all that sort of stuff,” Leung said. “Because I’m 16 and a teenager, I care what people think as it is in school, never mind what the whole world thinks.”

She found an entire website dedicated to “hating on” her. Not only were there many racist comments, it also featured a button with text reading, “If you disagree with this casting then click on this button.” The site also displayed the number of people who had clicked the button.

When Leung, who has never received any formal interview or media training, sought the support of her publicists, they told her to deny the existence of such hate sites. “I remember them saying, ‘Katie, we haven’t seen these websites that people are talking about, so if you get asked just say it’s not true. Say it’s not happening,” she said. “I just nodded my head, even though I’d seen it with my own eyes … I was very f—ing grateful that I was in the position I was in, but it wasn’t great.”

Over the years, the Harry Potter franchise and author J.K. Rowling have received much criticism, in large part due to what many perceive to be Rowling’s usage of minority groups as a “token effort” at diversity. In 2007, Rowling revealed at a publicity event that she “always thought of [Albus] Dumbledore [Harry Potter’s mentor] as gay.” 

She went on to explain that Dumbledore and his rival, Gellert Grindelwald, shared a romantic relationship. However, when the opportunity came for her to represent that relationship on the silver screen through the Fantastic Beasts franchise, set before the Harry Potter series, she turned it down.

Criticism has also involved Cho Chang, the character Leung plays. A video of Rachel Rostad performing her slam poem “To J.K. Rowling, From Cho Chang” went viral in 2013. Within the poem, Rostad criticizes Rowling’s implementation of Asian stereotypes when writing Chang by placing her in the “nerdy” Ravenclaw house, the creation of Cho Chang’s name from two Asian surnames and relegating her to a minor love interest role for the White male heroes, Cedric Diggory and Harry Potter.

“Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him,” Rostad concluded. “I’d seen all the movies and read all the books. We were just following the plot.”

The original video was later removed, as was her response video to critical comments.

Though Leung never directly addressed the controversy surrounding Rowling’s portrayal of Asian characters in Harry Potter, she did speak up in the summer of 2020 when Rowling created a new controversy, this time about her transphobic Tweets.

As a result of the increased scrutiny of Rowling, the question of Cho Chang’s character began trending as well.

In response, Leung began a thread on Twitter that misled her audience into believing she would share her thoughts on the character she brought to life. Instead, she followed the original Tweet with a series of links to shelters and organizations that support Black Trans women.

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