While fandoms ought to be a good thing, as they bring audiences together in a shared admiration for a particular person or pop-culture artifact, it is often these subcultures that rear their ugly heads. Actor Katie Leung of the Harry Potter franchise knows this all too well.
Recently guest starring in an episode of the Chinese Chippy Girl podcast, Leung discussed at length the racist online attacks she experienced from Harry Potter fans. At 16 years old, Leung was cast as the character Cho Chang in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth installment of the eight-film franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s book series. Cho Chang is the only character of East Asian descent to make an appearance.
Leung describes skimming through online forums created by and for the populous fandom, even finding one exclusively devoted to spewing hate about her role as Cho Chang. “I was, like, googling myself at one point, and I was on this website which was kind of dedicated to the Harry Potter fandom. I remember reading all the comments. And yeah, it was a lot of racist shit.”
When the young actor reached out to her publicists for help, they turned a blind eye to her suffering, suggesting that she lie to the press about the blatant racism that she was experiencing. “I remember them saying to me, ‘Oh, look, Katie, we haven’t seen these, these websites that people are talking about. And you know? If you get asked that, just say it’s not true, say it’s not happening,’” she recalls.
Folks on Twitter, of course, had lots to say on the matter, showing great support for Leung’s brave decision to tell her story and critiquing the series’ overall treatment of characters of color. “Talking about it helps young, Asian femme people and women without her platform know that they’re not alone. The studio should have had her back,” one person wrote. “Like it’s not already bad enough that the scant handful of non-white Potterverse characters are effectively irrelevant to the larger plot, she also had to deal with racist fandom bullshit and publicists so scared of the fandom that they wouldn’t let her speak her truth,” another tweeted.
I am really grateful that Katie Leung is speaking up about the racist BS she had to put up with playing Cho Chang as a teen. Talking about it helps young Asian femme ppl and women without her platform know they’re not alone. The studio should have had her back. https://t.co/MlFQrfdZ5K— Laura J. Mixon, M.Sci. (@LauraJMG) March 11, 2021
Like it’s not already bad enough that the scant handful of nonwhite Potterverse characters are effectively irrelevant to the larger plot, she also had to deal with racist fandom bullshit AND publicists so scared of the fandom that they wouldn’t let her speak her truth— Claire Willett (@clairewillett) March 11, 2021ADVERTISEMENT
It’s truly frightening how little the entertainment industry does to protect its child stars from harsh, public vitriol. With an overwhelming lack of support, Leung soldiered through the remaining films of the series and, in the years since, has gone on to live out a successful acting career. “I put it to the back of my mind,” she recalled. “I don’t know if that is the best way to deal with it, but that is naturally what I did in order to move on and be a good actor.” No, it’s not the best way to deal with such a traumatic experience as hers. But what else was she to do when her outcries for help were met with silence?
Top Photo via Wikimedia Commons
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Jamilah Horton is a graduate of Wellesley College with a B.A. in Cinema & Media Studies and Africana Studies. She lives in Harlem, NYC and enjoys watching and critiquing the latest films and television shows, especially those that center Black women and femmes. Subscribe to her YouTube channel That's A Wrap TV for more!