Hardin Scott, the main character of Anna Todd’s enormously popular After series, wasn’t always called Hardin Scott. When Todd began publishing the story in snippet-size form on the fan-fic platform Wattpad in 2011 under the name imaginator1D, he was called Harry Styles.
That’s because he was Harry Styles. Or at least, he was supposed to be.
Thanks to the endless possibilities of fiction, Todd recast Harry Styles and the rest of his One Direction bandmates as students at Washington State University. Harry (the character) has the same tattoos and fashion sensibility as Harry (the real person), but a different backstory.
In the book, college freshman Tessa Young (Josephine Langford in the film) moves into the dorms, meets Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin — yes, of those Fiennes), a tattooed English major, and promptly is swept into his lust whirlwind. In future installations of After, Tessa and Hardin's lives continue to orbit around each other's — through break-ups, reunions, and book publications (Hardin ends up writing about their relationship).
Since After has racked up 1.5 billion views on Wattpad and sold 15 million print copies, millions of readers now associate the fictional Styles with real one. This has led to a not-so-minor Fandom War. On one side is After's standom, who congregate under the #Hessa hashtag and are already gushing over GIFs of the not-yet-released movie.
On the other side are Styles' fans, who aren’t so keen on the parallel between Hardin Scott, prone to controlling and emotionally manipulative behavior, and their boy Harry. To advocate for the preservation of Styles' good name, they've created the hashtags #TreatHarryWithKindness and #LeaveHarryOutOfAfterMovie.
Harry Styles is one of the kindest humans on the planet and using his name to promote after is just disrespectful. After is a movie that promotes and normalizes abuse and Harry should NOT be dragged into this. #LeaveHarryOutOfAfterMovie #TreatHarryWithKindness— Reyna ◟̽◞̽ (@1DLiedToMe) February 19, 2019
"Most of Harry Styles and One Direction fans that I’ve spoken to do not agree with the message that After is conveying and will not be going to watch the movie," Reyna, a 14-year-old One Direction fan, told Refinery29 in an email. Reyna expressed frustration that Harry and Hardin are being conflated in the media. "It seems like they are using Harry’s name for attention even though he’s not involved at all," she added.
Styles' fans have tapped into something: Styles' public image as a man (and a lover) doesn't resemble Hardin Scott at all. Compared to Hardin's seething intensity, Styles exudes free-flowing sexuality. While he's never openly identified himself as queer, his lyrics appear to place him somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey Scale.
Notably, Styles also seems to respect teenage girls and their ambitions — which Hardin's critics say he doesn't do for his own teenage girlfriend. "How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future," Styles told Rolling Stone. "Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick."
No matter how angry or upset he makes me, one touch from him and I am under his control.
Tessa Young in After
After masks the problematic dynamics of Tessa and Hardin's under the blanket of "passion." Take this excerpt from Chapter 52 as a prime example: “No matter how angry or upset he makes me, one touch from him and I am under his control," Tessa narrates. Sure, after years in a chaste relationship with her high school boyfriend, Tessa is in the throes of a sexual awakening thanks to Hardin. That doesn't mean his sheer sexiness should negate all the anger he makes her feel.
Much like the snarling beast in Beauty and the Beast, Hardin looms as both a romantic lead and a potential danger. Hardin's physical force is a constant presence in the novel. In Chapter 22, Tessa remarks, "He removes one hand from my wrists, but the other is large enough to hold both. For a second, I think he might slap me.” He's prone to punching walls, to reminding her of what he could do with his strength.
Once Tessa meets Hardin, she waves goodbye to her independent life and uncluttered mind. Her consciousness is now colonized by Hardin. Even if she identifies the specifics of their relationship, she's stuck repeating the same cycle. In After We Fell, Tessa she comes out and says, "You are constantly disrespecting me — you're borderline emotionally abusive, obsessive, suffocating, and rude."
But as the enormous popularity of both After and Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrate, there's a demand for depictions of all-consuming relationships — critics be damned. In an Odyssey Online article titled "How It Feels To Read After By Anna Todd," Ashlyn Noah expresses wanting to find a Hardin of her own: "Despite how evil he can be, no other man makes you weak in the knees like Hardin does. There's something about his dark, brooding persona that's sexy and intriguing. Of course he's the main character so you're supposed to love him, but other than that, you want your own Hardin."
People on the outside of the After fandom may criticize the relationship, but these movies weren't made for them. In an interview with my colleague Anne Cohen, Jamie Dornan said something that applies to After as much as it does to Fifty Shades of Grey, in which he starred as Christian Grey.
"I don't really care what people say about the movies," Dornan said. These movies are made for the fans, and hopefully they will be satisfied with what we've given them."
So, fans of Anna Todd's Harry Styles fans will love After. Harry Styles' fans probably won't.