I have adored Hermione Granger my entire life. I wanted to be her so badly to the point where I pretended I was her for a whole week at school (and ended up winning a prize for it) – smart, level-headed, courageous and a perfectionist. I’ve idolized Emma Watson from the moment I saw her on the big screen, when at age 5 my Mum brought me to the cinema to watch the first Harry Potter film, The Philosopher’s Stone. Watson brought my favourite character to life, growing up in the spotlight all whilst remaining an intellectual, down-to-earth and wonderful human amongst the crazy world that is Hollywood. She echoes the very essence of Hermione and all that she stands for, and to this day I still think of Watson as one of my role models.
A year before watching the first film, my Mum read aloud to me the first book in the Potter universe. (I was good at reading at age 4, but quite that good.) I grew up in a white, British household, to the point where I spoke with an English accent instead of my native New Zealand tongue – which toned down when I started school but still likes to pop up in random words here and there. I didn’t know what race or ethnicity was at age 4. My world was filled with Caucasian faces, and so, naturally, I imagined Hermione (and the rest of the Potter characters) as such. The castings that followed a year later solidified this depiction of my favourite fictional character.
But as I entered my teen years and discovered fandom on the internet, I began to come across Potter fan arts shared throughout social media of a race-bent Hermione Granger. Curious, a little surprised, and in awe of the talent these artists had, not once did I take offence to the POC Hermione presented to me. I thought she was delightful and the idea of a non-white Hermione was one I rather liked. Sure, she wasn’t the Emma Watson or the frizzy brunette I had previously pictured, but nonetheless I loved the concept and supported it wholeheartedly.
And then the news broke – the casting of Hermione Granger for the upcoming stage play Harry Potter and The Cursed Child had been filled by black actress Noma Dumezweni. (You may recognise her from her impressive television resume of Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, EastEnders and Shameless UK). I was thrilled – and so was most of the internet. Including J.K. Rowling, the queen herself.
And Rowling brings up a great point: Hermione’s ethnicity was never specified in the books. Besides, Hermione’s character isn’t limited by her color. In fact it’s not her race, but her blood status, that to some defines her worth and place in the wizarding world. Reading the books, I noticed that discrimination against muggle-borns (or ‘Mudbloods’, the derogatory phrase for someone with non-magical parents) in the wizarding world seemed to be a parallel to racial discrimination in our own world. The themes within Harry Potter can be related to so many issues and events in our realities and throughout world history. But, at its core, Harry Potter is about love, about friendship, about acceptance, and a story of how hate and discrimination will never, ever win.
But besides the small-minded comments and ignorant keyboard crusaders among us, it is delightful to witness all of the support and positive response to the casting of Hermione Granger as a POC. No matter what skin colour she bears in any adaption or media form, Hermione should be remembered for the content of her character and all she stands for: being different, being brave, and being loyal until the very end. A wonderful quote from Rowling that has been making its rounds the past few days takes what I discussed at the beginning of the article and sums it up perfectly:
“I met a really clever reader the other day, and this is what’s wonderful about books; she said to me, `I really know what Neville looks like.’ And I said, `Describe Neville for me.’ And she said, `Well, he’s short and he’s black, and he’s got dreadlocks.’ Now, to me, Neville’s short and plump and blond, but that’s what’s great about books. You know, she’s just seeing something different. People bring their own imagination to it. They have to collaborate with the author on creating the world.” – J.K Rowling, sourced here.
Also, this tweeter makes a fantastic point to all the haters: