On the casting of Noma Dumezweni and representation. Also: Hermione Granger is NOT White
As always when marginalised or oppressed groups gain a little ground, the privileged panic. The instinctive (and some would say natural in this current society) reaction for some is to feel robbed.
The opportunity to see a new actress with an exciting and fresh take on a beloved character clearly strikes many as a loss of some sort. I’ve heard people claim the move is ‘political correctness gone mad!’ or ‘to appease the SJWs!’.
In reality, of course, the move is neither. To assume a black actress was only selected to appease critics is ludicrous, as it implies these people could not imagine a black actress selected on her own merits.
Especially in the case of this particular casting of Noma Dumezweni, who is a Lawrence Oliver award winning actress of critical acclaim, it’s obvious that talent was taken into account!
And yet so many white people are angry. They are defensive. They feel Hermione has been ruined for them somehow. They feel she’s been stolen.
“They’ve taken my Hermione away! I’ll no longer be able to relate to her now she’s black!”
Despite their insistence that their negative reaction to a black actress taking on the role is not rooted in racism, more a ‘loyalty’ to the character, they can’t see the racism inherent in that train of thought, and if only they would stop to think, they might see why so many brand them as racists.
To start with, Hermione is never stated as white, so nothing is being stolen. The only description of Hermione’s skin in the entire series states Hermione was looking ‘very brown’ in the Prisoner of Azkaban, following a holiday. This description leaves her character’s race entirely open to interpretation.
And yet despite this lack of textual evidence, white people have claimed Hermione as their own, whilst claiming to defend the original book series and their strict adherence to canon.
In this society, when skin colour is not disclosed most people will naturally assume that white is the default. This is an inbuilt racist reaction, which is often times not intentional, but still exists. We are so used to seeing white faces in media, that often our brains will take the leap to assume that any character of undisclosed race is white. This is a reaction we must work to unlearn. It suggests that for a character to be anything other than white, this should have to be explicitly stated, even proved. Why should POC always be the exceptions to the rule? Surely a character of no described race can be read any way at all? This is simply common sense.
Another thing the naysayers are missing in their outrage is that they are in for a wonderful opportunity. They are having a new critically acclaimed actress portray their favourite character at a later stage in her life, as supported by JK herself. This should be terrifically exciting for fans of Hermione Granger and the Harry Potter books, and it’s almost sad that the racism of some people is preventing them from basking in this wonderful news.
I’ve seen many people attempt to argue that Hermione simply cannot be black because she does not look or act black. These statements are often followed by the (deceitful) words: ‘but I’m not a racist’.
What does acting or looking black mean? Surely the only thing all black people have in common is the fact they are black? Just as the only thing all white people have in common is the fact they are white.
What is it about Hermione which prevents her from being black in their eyes? Is it her curly hair? Her bossy voice? Her slightly large front teeth? Her intelligence? Her status as the main heroine of the Harry Potter universe?
None of these descriptors should indicate that Hermione could not be black.
All this comment tells us is that the person whose mouth it comes out of has some preconceptions about black people based in stereotypes, which again, might not be intentional racism, but still IS racism.
As a woman of colour myself (albeit a very light skinned one!), I understand how it feels to crave representation, and what it means to see people that look like you on screen or in books. It’s a very validating, warm feeling, and something which is tremendously positive. It’s not about being PC, it’s about representing the real world, which is beautifully diverse.
This casting in particular, at this point in canon, is also excellent, because it forces people with inbuilt, unintentional racism to see a person first, race second, whilst still acknowledging that race. These people know and love Hermione. Now they shall have to love her as a black woman. These fierce defenders of ‘canon’ shall have to grow up and accept that JK Rowling herself has given her support to Noma Dumezweni, and now black Hermione Granger IS canon, so they’d better get defending her!
The fact that a black woman is playing Hermione does matter. It does. It’s not racist to notice that in a society where most of our fictional heroes are white men, one of the most beloved fictional heroines of our generation is going to be a black woman.
It matters in the sense it will send a message, that white is not the default.
It matters because black women face a very particular raw deal of racism and sexism rolled into one. It matters because actors of colour are so often denied roles they are perfectly right for, on the basis of skin colour. It matters because in a world where so many casting calls only audition white actors for characters of no specific race, unless explicitly told to do otherwise, a black woman has clearly won the day through her talent.
It matters because people who go to see The Cursed Child will come away with a different picture of Hermione Granger from that of the gorgeous Emma Watson of the films, and whatever headcanon they imagined when reading the books. They will be shown a different interpretation of one of their favourite characters, which should open their minds to the vast possibilities for all characters they read about. This will literally change the way people visualise when they read. That’s massive.
At the end of the day, Hermione Granger is a fictional character of no specified skin colour. She is NOT white. She was never white. She has always been open to interpretation in terms of race. This is nothing new just because a black actress is taking the role. There is no need for outrage. Your white Hermione is valid, but so is someone else’s black Hermione. There is no confirmed race here.
Emma Watson played Hermione Granger beautifully, and Emma happened to be a white woman. Noma Dumezweni is yet to show us her take on the role, and she happens to be black. Neither actress playing the role discounts the other or their portrayal.
To all those people who say Hermione is their favourite character and yet now are complaining about the casting of Noma Dumezweni, because it ‘ruins’ her for you, then I have to tell you: Hermione Granger was never your favourite character to begin with, was she, really?