Backlash Over Black Hermione the Latest Battle in Pop Media Racism

There's been some hullabaloo in the Harry Potter fanbase surrounding Hermione Granger, one of the series' central characters. J.K. Rowling collaborated on a sequel play, titled "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which follows various characters into middle age. The play is set to premiere in London next summer. The buzz surrounds black actress Noma Dumezweni, who will play Hermione. Baffled fans insist Hermione is white and Rowling intended her to be so.

The Cursed Child cast, with Dumezweni in the center

We cannot dismiss the backlash as anger over misrepresentation of canon, e.g. a male Hermione instead of a female one, since the books never specify Hermione's skin color. The Sorcerer's Stone describes Hermione as buck-toothed with bushy brown hair and brown eyes. The Prisoner of Azkaban says "Hermione [looks] very brown." The book also notes "Hermione's white face" when she is terrified, but this usage of "white" is probably equivalent to "pale with fear" and not an indication of skin color. 86% of Britons are white, so if Hogwarts has the same racial composition as the United Kingdom, Hermione could certainly be white. But the books never specify Hermione's skin color.


Part of the outrage stems from the belief that a character should remain white in every interpretation of the character. Interpretations of characters only have to be canonically correct, not necessarily consistent with other interpretations. Thus although Emma Watson, a white actress, played the character in all eight films, there is no need for the character to be white in all portrayals. Fans of the series should also remember that the Harry Potter films are a different type of adaptation than the stage play, making it even less imperative that the two character representations line up.

A second assumption in the backlash is the default race of characters. We as readers are so accustomed to white heroes that we require a skin color specification to imagine anything else. The appalling lack of racial diversity in fantasy novels perpetuates this tendency: if most fictional characters are white, readers will assume a new character is white as well.
Yet many Harry Potter fans have long portrayed Hermione as a woman of color, and most fans celebrate the casting decision as a victory for black people. The character's struggle against discrimination prompted some readers to read Hermione as a racial minority from the beginning; the character was born to non-magical parents and some Hogwarts students questioned her right to a magical education.


The success of shows with non-white protagonists, such as Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra and Netflix original series Master of None, demonstrates that characters don't have to be white to be popular. While a minority of Harry Potter fans protest a black interpretation of a beloved character, most fans are unfazed.

This small battle is part of an ongoing fight to make our media reflect ourselves, and, judging from J.K. Rowling's tweet, tolerance won this time.

Comments

  1. I got my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book today.
    I brought it on Amazon and they delivered it in just 2 days!
    Here's the link:
    Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2

    ReplyDelete

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