It’s been a strange year to be gay in a Hollywood blockbuster—the strangest part being that you can now actually be gay in a Hollywood blockbuster. Well, sort of gay. Big-budget movies in 2016 have taken to assigning sexuality to previously neutered supporting characters, like Sulu in Star Trek and the raving scientist in Independence Day, both of whom in this year’s sequels pointedly embraced husbands we never knew they had. (No kissing allowed, of course.) They’re barely better than the status quo of coded gay characters, like Kate McKinnon’s eccentric ghostbuster or maybe those two women pushing a stroller in Finding Dory, but unambiguously gay characters in movies of this scale really are something new. A tender hug between two married men in a film that will travel around the world is progress, however halting.
Or is it? In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a franchise-launching, megabudget Warner Bros. movie, there’s an obvious gay liberation metaphor behind the central plot, and speculation about the sequels has centered on how gay they will be. The hinges of the celluloid closet creak. In Fantastic Beasts, the homoerotic elements mostly manifest in the form of metaphor and heavy suggestion—but the franchise could be poised to take a much bigger risk in future films, as it explores the possibly romantic relationship between the new series’ villain, Grindelwald, and one Albus Dumbledore.
Fantastic Beasts has the many plot threads we’ve come to expect from the overambitious launch of a major Hollywood franchise, but its primary mystery involves the investigations of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and his strange relationship with Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a teenage boy under the influence of an anti-witch brigade. In one early scene, Graves, an “auror” (a kind of magical detective), lords over a young Credence and whispers to him suggestively, trying to tease out some sort of information. The sequence, dark and backlit in a 1920s New York alleyway, takes on an uneasy sensual air as the two figures lean into each other in a creeping embrace. Barebone, played by Miller with his saucer eyes and bottled-up intensity, seems to have a confused, if not overtly sexual interest in his older suitor; Graves’ motives are less clear, but he doesn’t exactly rebuff the boy’s clear desire for intimacy.