Representation In Licenced LEGO® Themes with a Contemporary Cinematic Narrative II: LEGO® Harry Potter™

This is not a post specifically about LEGO® Harry Potter™. This is a post regarding the way in which the LEGO Group have chosen to represent female characters over time. I have chosen to use this theme, as it has had 2 distinct phases of release: first in 2001-2012, a period that ran in parallel with the release of the Harry Potter movies, while the second began in 2018, and continues to this day.

This my the second article is a series, looking at gender distribution of minifigures in licensed themes – themes where the LEGO Group has little say over the content of the source material. The first, relating to such trends in LEGO Star Wars sets can be found here

I don’t mean to upset anyone

We cannot deny that LEGO Harry Potter is a popular theme amongst adults and children, and as such, I have been interested to see if there has been any change in the gender representation in the minifigures over time.

As a popular theme, children may look to their sets to seek reflection of the world that they live in: in licensed themes, the minifigures have more realistic skin tones than yellow minifigures, and school is a relatable topic for many children, even if the English boarding school is not part of their personal experience. But as a girl playing with LEGO, you can probably relate to the female characters better than the male ones. As such, a level of representation within your avatars of play is helpful.

I acknowledge that JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books has made a number of public statements regarding transgender people, and these comments have caused significant distress to some members of the LGTBQ+ community and their supporters. The Rambling Brick does not support discrimination in any form. However, as a white middle aged male, I have no doubt that I have benefitted from a certain level of privilege in life , and have been guilty of inadvertent bias over the years. I hope to be continuing to learn, inform and improve myself.

Before I proceed with the article, I’d like to present a statement from the LEGO Group, with regards to the position they have taken on this matter:

From the LEGO Group: “There is no place for discrimination in our society.   Our mission is to inspire the builders of tomorrow, and that includes inspiring them to be empathetic, kind and inclusive both through our products and our learning through play programmes. “

Our partnership to create Wizarding World sets is with Warner Bros, not JK Rowling. Warner Brothers receives the royalty fees from the sales of LEGO Harry Potter sets. You will need to contact Warner Brothers directly to ask them how they distribute these funds.   

Since Diversity and Inclusion are a focus for us, we also work with non-profit organisations that support LGBTQ+ children.  In Connecticut we have donated to TRUE COLORS, a non-profit organisation that works with social service agencies, schools, organisations and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognised and competently met.  

In the UK we are also working with Diversity Role Models, an organisation that helps to educate all children about the importance of inclusion and empathy for all.; and Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that provides housing and support for LGBTQ+ youth.  “

The LEGO Group October 2020

Now, Let Us Begin…

I have had in interest in the way in which LEGO sets represent female characters for a while. My daughter was more interested in playing with LEGO bricks than my son was, as time when by, and LEGO City, Creator, Power Miners and Harry Potter were our go to themes. At the time, it felt that LEGO sets were predominantly marketed towards boys – that blue City Packaging will do that – and it felt that there were significantly more male than female minifigures, especially with the in house themes. Almost 5 years ago, I wrote up my first assessment of female representation in LEGO sets.There was no point in doing a scan of every minifigure ever produced: that will always be a losing battle in the fact of the last 32 years of evolution beyond the classic smiley face. LEGO Friends had been on the market for around 4 years, and I was curious to see if, now that there was a theme being actively marketed at girls, whether or not there had been any change. So, we documented that from 2011 to 2016, we had seen LEGO City progress from portraying 12% of the population as female, to closer to 30%. The Harry Potter theme, which at that time was on hiatus, was a bit above the previous average, with 16% of minifigures portraying female characters.

More recently: the LEGO City appears to have progressed further: looking at ‘contemporary LEGO yellow figure town’ – LEGO City and Creator (including Creator Expert) – the representation had increased. In the Australian print catalog from January 2020, 40% of the minifigures in those themes portrayed female characters, and a similar proportion of figures were clearly male. The remainder were less clearly defined.

I recently reviewed the female representation in LEGO Star Wars, as seen between 2001 and 2020. While we saw an increase in the number of female characters represented as minifigures in recent years, this also coincides with an increase in the number of female characters appearing in the source material- be it cinema, television, comics or video games. Over this time, we have seen a 9 fold increase in the absolute number of female figures being produces, and a 3 fold increase in the percentage of representation.

LEGO Harry Potter is a little different. There has been no new source material released since the original movies ran their course in 2011. In that first release wave, we saw around 22% of minifigures represented female characters. Therefore, we might surmise that any change in the number of female characters produced might be more representative of moves within the LEGO Group to ensure a more equitable representation within the toy line.

Female Minifigures in LEGO® Harry Potter Sets.

My primary source of information regarding minifigures came from the brickset database, as well as information direct from the press release, relating to the 2021 June wave of sets. I included figures from LEGO Harry Potter sets, as well as the two Collectible Minifigure series. I did not include other Wizarding World figures, such as those relating to Fantastic Beasts, and Where To Find Them, or The Crimes of Grindelwald. I specifically flagged the Harry, Hermione and Ron figures, as they are characters with the most variations for subsequent analysis. I picked specifically through the list of sets, rather than the list of figures, as some figures appeared in multiple sets.

Characters were considered as a specific gender if they were obviously portrayed as one or other on screen. Non-human sentient species (house elf, goblin, centaur) were considered, but figures representing dementors and shop manniquns were not . I did not include any micro figures or nano figures (from LEGO Games, and the Hogwarts Castle) or golden 20th anniversary minifigures in my calculations.

Initially, I plotted the number of male and female Minifigures released in LEGO Harry Potter Sets, each year.

Looking at these columns, it appears that there is a greater representation of female characters in the 2018 onward range, compared to the initial releases. I looked at this data as a percentage, to normalise against the number of figures produced each year:

The percentage of male:female minifigures in LEGO Harry Potter sets, by year. I am intrigued by the increased in female representation from 2020 onwards.

Looking at this data, it would appear that there have been significantly more female figures as a propotion of the total being produced, compared in the 2018 onward releases. There also appears to have been an increase in the number of female minifigures releasented from 2020 and 2021 compared to the previous years.

Let’s simplify these periods into two columns, and look at the absolute number of minifigures, as well as the relative percentages:

There are several pieces of information to glean from these graphs:

  • More minifigures have been released in the current release phase, than during the original release
  • There are more female minifigures produced (as an absolute number)
  • The proportion of female minifigures released has doubled during this time.

Based on the annual graphs above, it appears that there might have been a change in policy with the 2020 products. There appears to be a quantum increment in the proportion of female minifigures included in sets at this time. So, I split the current 2018 onwards data into 2018-19, and 2020-21. Between these two periods, 2018-19 and 2019-20, we see the overall presentation of female characters increase from 27 to 37%, a fairly significant number.

Of note, 7 of the 16 minifigures in the second series of Harry Potter Collectable minifigures are female characters. Considering the presence of Griphook (a goblin) and Kingsley Shacklebolt, a person of colour, then we see that white male humans are less than 50% of the characters in the series – a first in any licensed set of collectable minifigures.

This graph represents the proportion of male:female minifigures you would have if you had one copy of every LEGO Harry Potter set, except for convention exclusives:

Harry Potter and the Contractual Obligation

As a franchise based around specific characters, the LEGO sets will have a specific bias towards presenting the main trio of Harry Potter, Hermione Grainger and Ron Weasely.

These characters are important, as they occupy the bulk of the attention in the plot. They are also the characters that the kids will relate to. However, to maintain a sense of novelty when purchasing a new set, they also come in many variations. In fact, these three characters account for 143 of the 403 minifigures that appear in sets across the years. I suspect there are several ways we can consider the effect:

One would be to remove Harry Potter figures from the equation completely, but leave Ron and Hermione. If you opened every LEGO Harry Potter set, you would have 77 Harry Potter figures. Some might be duplicates. This constitutes almost 20% of all minifigures in the theme. Lowering the number of male figures from the total will increase the total proportion of female minifigures, across each epoch, most recently we see 44% female characters in 2020-21. But this is fairly selective data manipulation, designed to improve the female minifigure ratio.

I considered the gender mix of characters, removing Harry, Ron and Hermione from the selection. It would appear that these figures, as a population, represent a fairly consistent proportion across all time periods. As such, as you can see if you compare the below graph with the one in the previous paragraph, there is little differenceures:

Represented Characters

Overall, I am quite excited to see this increasing trend of actively including female characters, particularly when the characters included are relevant to the plot, or the location that was used in the movie. Virtually every character in the movies had a name. Sometimes we may not have known who they were at the time, but they were included.

So for our final set of graphs, let us look at the number of CHARACTERS represented as minifigures in LEGO Harry Potter sets. This analysis eliminates ALL Variants: For each epoch, we get will only count each character once. Only one Harry Potter Figure. Only One Dumbledore. But also only one Hermione and one Luna Lovegood. Due to logisistical, domestic challenges, I was unable to split the modern epoch into the 2018-19 and 2020-21 periods.

You can argue that this might be a bit severe: Harry is represented with 3 different types of leg elements across the current range of sets, different uniforms, Quidditch robes, casual clothes. The same goes for many of the other students too. But bear with me, as I think it goes to the core of the way in which the Harry Potter Team have been making an effort to improve the variety of characters that are represented in the current run. To date, Almost every character who appeared in the first run (2001-2012) has appeared in the current series (either in a set, or as a CMF), but there are a few exceptions:

  • Peeves: one of the ghosts in Hogwarts, the character of Peeves was filmed ( portayed by Rik Mayall) but the final material was not included in the film.
  • Professor Lupin in Wolf form
  • Merman – seen only in ‘Rescue from the Merpeople’ in 2005
  • Professor Igor Krasakoff – I am suprised that the professor from Durmstrang Academy did not make an appearance with the other sets from the Goblet of Fire last year, but these ir dstill plenty of scope for the future.
  • Narcissa Malfoy did really make much of an appearance before the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I expect she might make an appearance in conjunction with sets from that movie, which we are yet to see.
*rounded to the nearest 5% 2001-2012: F23%/M77%. 2018-2021: F35%/M65%

The upshot of these graphs: there are more characters represented in LEGO Minifigure form since 2018, than there were in the 2011-2012 run. We have also seen the percentage of female CHARACTERS increase from 23% to 35% of the total number of figures produced.

We have just seen the new sets for 2021 announced, and in these sets there are a number of characters who have not been seen previously, including Mr and Mrs Flume (who run Honey Dukes Sweets shop in Hogsmeade) and Madam Rosmerta, the landlady of The Three Broomsticks. We also see the first minifigure appearance of Aurora Sinestra, the Astronomy professor. She helps get Justin Finch-Fletchly to the sickbay, having been attacked by the Basilisk. There are a few other underutilitsed characters featured in the Chamber of Secrets (76389) including Nearly Headless Nick, Colin Creevey, and a younger Luna Lovegood. I was also impressed at the fact that the flying lesson set (76395) features none of the main trio of characters. Of course, there are plenty of sets in the wave where they are the only characters represented. All of these characters have been seen on screen, even if they did not have major role. Also of note is the appearance of Dean Thomas, previous limited to the first wave of Collectable minifigures –

I was impressed overall at the progress that we have seen in increasing representation of female characters in the LEGO Harry Potter range, despite no change or additions to the source material. It’s amazing what you can find if you look. The ‘extra blip’ that we see reflected in the 2020/2021 sets gives me the feeling that overall gender distribution in sets might approach closer to 40% female minifigures into the future.

What About Racial Diversity?

In the current run of Harry Potter (2018-present), we have also seen an increase in the racial diversity of minifigures visible in both sets and collectable minifigures: Cho Chang, Dean Thomas, Padma and Parvarti Patil: these figures, along with Seraphina Picquery from the Fantastic Creatures franchise, all have (medium) nougat skin tones; Kingsley Shacklebolt and Aurora Sinestra both have reddish brown skin tones.

These figures represent 10 of the close to 300 different minifigures ever released in LEGO Harry Potter sets. Around 3%. While this might not feel like many at this point, let us consider that in 2018, the first three of these was released, and in the previous production run (2001-2012) there were no people of colour in the LEGO Harry Potter Range to speak of.

I reached out to Macos Bessa, Design Lead for LEGO Harry Potter for a comment regarding the increasing number of diverse characters, as well as those minor characters that we had not previoiusly seen as Minifigures: he responded “We treat LEGO Harry Potter as a gender neutral franchise with a very broad appeal in terms of consumer base. In order to make our products relevant and inspiring for all kids, we have been making an effort to include more diverse characters, while respecting the IP storyline.”

It is encouraging to see that the LEGO Group are working towards improving representation of all sorts within minifigures in this theme. In LEGO City, we have seen more female characters, a greater range of ages, and in recent years the inclusion of minifigures with a disability. It wasn’t so long that female minifigures were relatively uncommon. As such, it is exciting to see the way in which the LEGO Group is actively working to increase the representation of women, as well as other historically underrepresented groups in the Minifigure form. As a theme, Harry Potter has always seen a higher number of female fans than other themes which the LEGO Group have released over the years. It will be interesting to see how things progress. There is still room for improvement. While we have sets with a greater level of representation of people of color, as well as women, Aurora Sintestra and Dean Thomas are only included in the most expensive sets this year. Hopefully, we might look to see these characters in less expensive sets in the future.

I was uncertain as to what I might find as I embarked upon this article. I was surprised to see a 10% increase in female representation in 20-21, compared to the previous 2 years. I am also heartened by the increased number of female characters, as well as people of color in recent years, compared to the more historical sets. The source material for these sets has not changed since they were first released. But certainly the LEGO Group’s approach to portraying characters in Minifigure form has.

After all, a toy should reflect the children who play with it.

I hope you have enjoyed this dive into the representation of female characters in LEGO Harry Potter sets, and how this has changed over the years.

I’d love to know how you feel about this trend. Please leave your comments below, and feel free to share this post with your friends. Why not sign up for our mailing list, so you can receive updates, and be sure to follow our social media @ramblingbrick.

Until next time,

Play Well!

While I am here plugging the various ways to keep up with the Rambling Brick, have you listened to Extra Pieces? It is a podcast that being produced in collaboration with Jay’s Brick Blog. You can find links to you favorite podcaster platform here.

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