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In light of the JK Rowling controversy, is it still OK to enjoy Strike: Lethal White?

For some, the uncoupling of art from the artist is far from an easy feat, says Molly Marsh.

Strike: Lethal White
Published: Friday, 28th August 2020 at 12:00 pm

By Molly Marsh


BBC One detective drama Strike returns to our screens this week for a fourth series – an adaptation of the book Lethal White – but the recent controversy surrounding author JK Rowling, who penned the novels the show is based on, is likely to leave some viewers uncomfortable about the prospect of tuning in.

This year has been a tumultuous one for fans of the Harry Potter author, who has faced a backlash from the LGBT community since she published a controversial essay detailing her views on transgender rights back in June. In the essay, ‘TERF Wars’, Rowling expresses her ardent opposition to allowing trans people to self-identify. She cites women’s rights as the key motivator for voicing what she frames as “concerns around single sex spaces”, but what many trans people have interpreted as thinly veiled transphobia.

In the wake of the essay’s release, countless alumni of the Wizarding World, including actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Eddie Redmayne, released their own statements expressing their support for the trans community and distancing themselves from Rowling’s stance. But undeterred, she has continued to state her views on Twitter in the months following.

For me as a trans person, the media response to Rowling’s comments has been nothing short of exhausting. Spats between transgender people and wilfully ignorant bigots have been ubiquitous in the Twittersphere for years, but the enormity of Rowling’s fame has meant that the ‘debate’ she’s fostered has been picked up by mass media in an unprecedented way. This speaks to what is ultimately so troubling for me about the whole ordeal – thanks to Rowling, I’m now quizzed about the ‘trans debate’ by people in the real world, where previously I could reassure myself by believing that these attacks on trans people existed only on Twitter, or only in columns by attention-seeking journalists. It feels disheartening to say the least that Rowling’s diatribe will now be many people’s gateway into conversations about LGBT rights.

So what does this mean for our future enjoyment of Rowling’s output, from classics like the Harry Potter books to the upcoming fourth series of Strike?

JK Rowling
JK Rowling

For some, celebrating or just consuming the author’s work from now on is tantamount to endorsing her views, but others disagree, instead abiding by a mantra of ‘separating the art from the artist’. It’s a phrase that’s brought up time and again when we are confronted with the difficult choice of whether to remain part of their audience. ‘Separating the art from the artist’ is a motto that takes that choice out of our hands – if we can treat a person and their output as entirely unconnected, then we can sit back and enjoy it guilt-free.

When contemplating whether to watch the upcoming series of Strike however, I think the question is a different one. While Rowling is the sole author of the Cormoran Strike books, the television series is an adaptation, written for the screen by Ben Richards (Series 1) and Tom Edge (Series 2-4). Rowling receives an executive producer credit, but aside from that has limited involvement in the project. Which begs the question: is it productive to boycott a TV series crafted by myriad actors, writers, directors, and producers, purely because of the opinions of an author whose relationship with the final product is arguably quite distant?

Lethal White
BBC Pictures

There’s certainly a conversation to be had there. In a recent Radio Times interview, cast members Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger themselves weighed in on the issue. Both actors appear to be sitting on the fence, with Burke opining that “there is fear on both sides” and Grainger lamenting that social media doesn’t allow for “nuanced conversation” while heralding Rowling as “a massive influence”.

If you’re looking to me as a trans person to give watching the new series of Strike the OK, I say… go for it. Burke and Grainger turn in fantastic performances, and who am I to deprive you of some great telly in this most depressing of years. But I will add the proviso that if the TV industry was more interested in telling trans stories, and if we as the viewing public demanded trans stories more zealously, we probably wouldn’t be worrying so much about JK Rowling in the first place.


Strike: Lethal White begins on Sunday 30th August at 9pm on BBC One and continues at the same time on Monday 31st August – check out what else is on with our TV Guide


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