On December 20th, the news dropped that The Cursed Child, the 8th canon Harry Potter story that is making its debut soon in England, had cast its Harry, Hermione and Ron. That's big news in and of itself, but what set the internet on fire was that Noma Dumezweni-a black actress-was cast as Hermione. Immediately, two main camps set up. Those whose reaction to this news was something like this:
And those whose reaction was more like this:
There also seems to be a sizable third group whose reaction was kinda like...this:
Let me explain who these people are.
People in group A (crying gif) are those of us who have been on the racebent Hermione train for years. We wrote fanfic, created fanart, headcanons, and imagined Hermione as non-white (most often black) in our minds. Despite accusations of this being done as part of some racebending trend (reboot Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm being played by Michael B. Jordan in the recent film given as the most common example of forced diversity), this actually goes back years and is not new at all. People have been racebending Hermione since the books were published (meaning: before the movies). Lots of people legitimately thought that Hermmione WAS a person of color. Why? The text is non-specific and frankly lots of things about Hermione make more sense if she is a person of color.
For example, I always thought "bushy" was a very interesting descriptor. It's the most common one used for Hermione in the books. Why not "curly" or "frizzy"? That's how I would describe (naturally) big white hair. When I read "bushy," I immediately thought of natural black hair. Also, Hermione's seemingly extreme academic drive is common in communities of color, particularly immigrant communities where education is seen as one's ticket out of adversity, poverty, and how you pay back your parent's hard work and sacrifice. In a world where Voldemort exists, Hermione's worst fear is literally being expelled from school. Um. I, and a lot of brown kids, know first hand about that life. I have attendence awards from high school. On Senior Ditch Day, I was on campus. I cried when I had to miss school BECAUSE I NEEDED SURGERY. Also, Hermione's parents are dentists, but she can easily still be first or second generation.
The reason why I love Hermione (most) is because of her dedication to social justice. Hermione is "woke" in a way none of her classmates are. And in a way very few adults she encounters are. One of my favorite scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book 7) is a scene between Harry and Hermione when they are on the run and staying at the house Harry's godfather left to him. Kreacher, Harry's inherited house elf, has just told them the very sad story of his life, the history of the locket horcrux and what happened to Sirius Black's brother, Regulus. Harry is angry that the house elf "betrayed" Sirius (his godfather) and the Order, but Hermione is quick to shut that down and give Harry some much-needed perspective.
Harry Potter: "I don't understand you, Kreacher. Voldemort tried to kill you, Regulus died to bring Voldemort down, but you were still happy to betray Sirius to Voldemort? You were happy to go to Narcissa and Bellatrix, and pass information to Voldemort through them…"
Hermione Granger: "Harry, Kreacher doesn't think like that. He's a slave; house-elves are used to bad, even brutal treatment; what Voldemort did to Kreacher wasn't that far out of the common way. What do wizard wars mean to an elf like Kreacher? He's loyal to people who are kind to him… I've said all along that wizards would pay for how they treat house-elves. Well, Voldemort did… and so did Sirius."
Hermione can be white or black/poc and still have all her amazing accomplishments. She can still care deeply about making a fairer world. But her being black brings a deeper layer to that need and a plausible explanation of why it is important to her. Maybe she's marginalized in two worlds. The muggle world for her skin and the magical world for her blood. We know via Rowling that after Hogwarts and after the war, Hermione lives up to her promise as "the brightest witch of her age" and changes the entire wizarding world by entering the ministry and bringing down ages old discriminatory and prejudiced pure blood laws and laws that keep non-wizard species as second class citizens. How powerful a story is that if Hermione is a black girl? Think of what that message sends to all the millions of children of color all over the world, especially girls, who can see themselves mirrored in a smart bushy-haired girl who wants to change the world. And does.
Group B (Elrond gif) are people who feel deeply betrayed right now. They are ANGRY and offended. How dare Rowling pander to the PC crowd and try to backtrack on the TRUTH of Hermione being white (despite her race never being stated in the books), they say. Hermione is white because Emma Watson is white and the book illustrations are white and that is that. It is shameful and cheap for Rowling to try and pull this sort of stunt. Where is her integrity, they ask, while probabaly shaking their fists at the sky.
For the full effect, imagine this with a LOT of blatant racism and a lot of low-key racism (see: "It's really about the integrity of the text" arguments).
Group C (Hermione gif) are people who are confused, surprised and a bit taken aback because it just never occured to them that Hermione might be something other than white. They defaulted to white in their mind because that's what you do in a world saturated in white supremacy where white is the default in fiction unless stated otherwise. These people can go either way into groups A or B. Group A leaning people are like "Oh! I never thought of her as black, but that's cool!" Group B leaning people are like ".....nah. That just doesn't look right. She can't be black."
Things got to the point where Rowling herself jumped in to try and shut down the negativity.
Now you would think that the CREATOR herself coming down from on high to say that she loves black Hermione and to confirm that the text, the text she wrote, with her hand, from her brain, doesn't specify that Hermione is white would be the end of it, right? Well, you would be wrong. Very, very wrong.
Here are some of the wanky comments I encountered (with my responses/reactions). All of these are real comments from Comic Book Resource's Facebook post. Of CBR, my (very white male) friend said to me the other day (about another possible racebent character causing a stir in fandom): "CBR is my number 1 source for organic free range white men's tears." That said, CBR is not an exception. It is not the worst I've seen. I have read comments like these on Twitter and many different posts from very different outlets. Remember, I wade into the murky and stinky depths of the comments sections of the internet so that you, dear reader, don't have to. You're welcome.
- The pictures on the books show them to be white
- JK Rowling said that the film appearances of the characters are 100% accurate. You're wrong mate, sorry. Ron should be a ginger and Harry and Hermione are white, and that's canon
- I think this argument is funny, because if they tried to make an obviously black character white, way more people would lose their goddamn minds, screaming racism and white privilege till they collapsed.
This is a reverse racism argument that we do not have time to get into here. Just know this: It's not a thing.
- "Hermione's white face was sticking out from behind a tree"... Well, unless she had a face full of flour..
Do...do people not know that "white faced" is a common literary description that means "scared"?
- Harry Potter and the Political Correctness... oh, I mean... Harry Potter and the "Diversity"
- I don't like hermione being portrayed because the change is so sudden... i wouldn't have had a problem if she had been portrayed by a black actress from the very beginning... JKR had approved a white actress 1st so its safe to assume she had obviously imagined hermione as white...moreover its not just in the movies where she has been portrayed as white... she has been portrayed as white in the games, lego movies, pottermore & even in the book covers...If what JKR says about loving hermione as black is true then why didn't she do anything about it from the very beginning... assuming she did not have much say in the casting(she obviously did) why didn't she have hermione portrayed as black in other media like in the book covers or pottermore or in the games?? People can defend JKR's choice all they want by saying that hermione's ethnicity was never mentioned... However if you read the books carefully you'll notice that JKR had specifically mentioned which characters are black like dean thomas & angelina johnson thus indirectly stating that the others are white...
Okay, this person has a point. To a degree. The rest of the comment descends into f*ckery (it goes on for a while, trust me on this), but there has been legit criticism of Rowling's tendency to later say that there was more diversity in the text than she explicitly says in the text. Like I can name all the non-ambiguously black characters that speak in the entire series on one hand (Angelina Johnson, Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Blaise Zambini (I think??). Let's not even talk about LGBTQ characters. The series just isn't that diverse. Especially considering how many characters there are in the books.
We should definitely be happy about how open Rowling is to reinterpretations of her work, many authors aren't, but we ought to be careful about how much credit we give her for things she really did not do. She has always been supportive of fans racebending the characters (she has reblogged black Hermione fanart), but did she intend to write Hermione as a poc? Or did she just leave the text open to interpretation (not necessarily on purpose)? I really think that she does not care either way as long as the character is represented well, which is cool, but that's a passive go-with-the-flow thing, not an active decision making thing.
- In the movies....
This one came up over and over and over. And over. Look, I get it. For a lot of people, the actors from the movies are THEIR versions of the characters. Emma Watson played Hermione in 7 movies for over 10 years. But the movies are not the original canon. They are adaptations of canon. This is a play. For a variety of reasons, this was never going to be Emma Watson in the role. You would have had to see someone else play Hermione anyway. Not to mention that "blind" casting is very common in the theater world. Casting someone unexpected in a role is a great way to see the role or the material in a new light. Getting creative with casting is one of the things that makes theater great.
You should also be aware of how non-canon compliant a LOT of the movie casting is. For one thing, most of the adult actors are WAY older than their characters are in the books. Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, and David Thewlis (Severus Snape, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin) were all decades older than their characters who are supposed to be 28-35 over the course of the series. Harry's parents were portrayed by actors who looked to be in their 30s when they were 21 when they died. They should look barely older than teens. Harry is supposed to have green eyes (Daniel Radcliffe's are blue). It's a detail mentioned multiple times in the books. The Weasley twins are short and Ron is the tall one (another one of those often mentioned details that the films change and/or ignore).
Some of the actors have also pointed this out:
Others think casting changes are a good thing:
Thanks, Percy. You're really not a git.
And Jason Iaascs is out here throwing shade in true Malfoy fashion:
If you have a problem with Hermione being black, think she absolutely has to be white, or cannot understand why racebends are important and why representation matters, you should maybe go sit down and think long and hard about it. Think about why racebending is a thing. Think about what it would be like to live in a world where there is so little positive representation in media of people that look like you. Think about why you care so much about the casting of a character in a play you are probably never going to see. Then think about this book series you claim to love so much. Think about the messages that run throughout the series: Don't judge a book by its cover; People surprise you when given the chance; Look beyond appearances; You have an obligation to try and make a more just world; There is no benefit in upholding the status quo; 'The way things have always been' probably means gross inequality.
Think about Hermione Granger. What would the girl who fought and nearly died for a world where everyone could have a place at the table say? Are you fighting for something the character you are supposedly fighting for would support? If not, maaaaybe you've missed the point of Harry Potter. Be like Hermione. Fight for inclusion. Applaud diversity. Welcome Ms. Dumezweni to the Harry Potter family and look foward to what she brings to the table.