Just Let Hermione Be Black

The first public preview or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place tonight and despite not having tickets to the show, I couldn’t be more excited. Harry Potter is nothing less than a phenomenon: it had a tremendous impact on an entire generation and continues to to inspire new works 19 years after the first book was released.

If you don’t know about the show, it is being touted as the “eighth story” in the Harry Potter series and takes place after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with our heroes now living their lives as adults. The full description is as follows:

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Essentially, it’s everything that fans have wanted since the series ended: we get to find out what happens next. So everybody should be over the moon, right? Except this is the internet and it’s 2016 – of course people are angry about something. The cause of their ire this time around: the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a black actress, as Hermione Granger.

Whilst Hermione Granger is a book character whose ethnicity is never explicitly stated, the majority of people imagine her as Emma Watson so surprise, maybe even shock, at this casting isn’t crazy but the outright racism that’s emerged is ridiculous – especially when you begin to think about the reason that people are angry.

Diversity is an issue that’s at the forefront of public debate at the moment so whenever anything happens people are ready with an opinion and they are vocal about it. Either there’s not enough diversity or creators are pandering to the “social justice warriors” by including people of colour in their work.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened: there was the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the latest Fantastic Four and of course, there’s the shit storm that rises every time somebody suggests Idris Elba for the role of James Bond. Ironically, the largest protesters are the same people shouting down those who make claims of white-washing in media with the response that “the best actors are chosen for the job.”

Whilst I don’t typically agree with these people, it seems crazy that they’re fighting about a character that could literally be of any race based on the source material. Furthermore, the author, J.K. Rowling has expressed happiness at the casting.

When there’s no basis for Hermione having to be played by a white actress, it means that people just can’t see their hero as black: that somehow, skin colour is directly related to bravery or intelligence or kindness and therein lies the reason why this kind of diversity in media is important.

Hamilton is proof of how well colour-blind casting can work. The cast of that show look nothing like the original founding fathers but they were chosen because they were the best people to tell a story and now young people can look at this massively successful musical and imagine themselves doing something similar with their lives.

The Harry Potter series is more than a story about a boy wizard: over the seven books there are so many interwoven messages about discrimination and equality. True fans of the work can’t be angry about this. Honestly, I have no idea if Noma Dumezweni will make a good Hermione but neither does anyone else. Just let Hermione be black and wait until you watch the play to cast your judgements.

What do you think about the casting of Hermione? Do you have tickets to the play? Is diversity in media still an issue to you? Let me know in the comments.

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