The latest Harry Potter installment is a play featuring a black Hermione.
I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I mean really huge fan – I grew up on the books, went to midnight releases (and dressed up for some of them…), I listened to MuggleCast, and pursued the internet for fan theories and speculations. There’s so much in this universe to unpack and talk about that wasn’t directly addressed in the books that there are an incredible amount of theories that could actually be true. (And let’s be real… Harry isn’t the most reliable nor observant narrator so there are theories that could actually play out.)
About six months ago, I did write about some of my favorite theories and criticisms of the Harry Potter world, books, and movies because as much as I do love it, it’s not perfect. A part of that is the significantly white cast of the movies and the severe lack of diversity within the books and movies. There are no indications of people with disabilities nor are there any out LGBTQIA characters (and no Dumbledore does not count).
And there have been a lot of theories that Harry is not white and actually a person of color (possibly biracial?) and particularly that Hermione might be Jewish and/or black. A big part of the theory that Hermione is actually a woman of color at the very least is that finding a clear description of her is hard to find – most of the descriptions that come from the books are about her bushy hair or big front teeth.
Alanna Bennett wrote about what a racebent Hermione really represents at the beginning of this year, writing that having someone in media (especially in such a large franchise like Harry Potter) is so important because it allows people to see themselves in the media they consume. At one point, Bennett quotes Junot Diaz about the importance of representation, who said:
You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?’ And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.
With the main series being finished (both the books and movies), it’s impossible to go back and redo the mistakes regarding representation. But there are so many new things in the Harry Potter world coming out in the next few months and years. One is the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which introduces us to the world of the American magical society and follows Newt Scamander in 1920s New York City.
The biggest excitement (at least for me right now) is the original play that is going to happen on London’s West End and the casting of the main trio was just recently announced. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is slated to premiere in London the summer of 2016 and is set 19 years after the end of the second war against Voldemort. In it, the main trio are all grown up and working but the main focus is going to be around Harry’s youngest son struggling with the burden of the family legacy. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the main trio were recently cast and Noma Dumezweni (a black woman) will be playing Hermione.
Hate To Break It To Ya, Hermione Is Black https://t.co/rqLOLsytzC
— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) December 21, 2015
It should be no surprise after all I’ve written how excited I am to see a black actress playing Hermione because it opens up the idea and very real possibility that Hermione is not necessarily and canonically white. There have been so many (racist) people freaking out that Noma is a black woman playing Hermione but I honestly LOVE the casting. And even JK Rowling herself is supportive and excited about it! Although, we still need creators of all different media to still be accountable when their text/casting/etc is made up of all sorts of privilege.
So glad we see characters showing more identities – but creators have to take accountability when they default to privileged ones.
— John Jacobson (@DreamingReviews) December 21, 2015
Ultimately, I am really excited to see that the Harry Potter universe is taking small steps to being more diverse and representative but I still recognize that more could have very easily been done in past productions to have more there.