This past Sunday may have been one of the most important days in my life. It isn’t because of a job, or a relationship, or even a success in adulting. Two days ago, the casting for Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the upcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were announced. And Hermione is being played by a black woman.
I spent my childhood connecting to and understanding Hermione on a deep level. I’d always felt like her, the awkward smart nerdy girl who loved books and got an unnecessary amount of anxiety around getting good grades, but someone who ultimately cared about what was right. Even now, as Robyn and I have been going through Harry Potter chapter by chapter on #WizardTeam, I’m discovering just how similar our personalities are; they are so close that it’s a bit scary.
As has been said countless times, Hermione was never explicitly raced at all. The only descriptions we ever got of her was that she had brown eyes and very bushy hair. Through this description, Hermione could be any race, "bushy" potentially standing in somewhere between curly and nappy. On the one hand, this is cool because it allows for readers of Harry Potter to picture who they want as Hermione (or the majority of the characters, who aren't explicitly raced either). Throughout the series, Rowling doesn't explicitly name the race, sexuality, or other important part of a character's identity. Whether intentional or not, she was happy with the casting of Hermione for the new stage play.
While I love and will always connect to Harry Potter on a deep level, and while I was overjoyed at Rowling's embracing of a black Hermione, she tends to approach her characters with a colorblind mindset. In the Harry Potter books, we are not given race at all except for a few characters (such as Malfoy, the Weasleys, Dean and Angelina). I understand her intention: she wanted people to be able to see themselves in all of her characters regardless of race. And while in theory this is a nice thought, it doesn’t truly work. We live in a white supremacist society, one where white is always the default unless explicitly stated otherwise. Even little black kids who would love to see themselves reflected in the stories they read tend to default to white unless told black. That, on top of adding the casting of the movies, makes it difficult to just accept a colorblind Wizarding World. As someone who started reading the books only a year before the first movie came out, the image of Emma Watson as Hermione was seared into my brain at a young age, and it took reading Alanna Bennett’s post on BuzzFeed to make me realize that Hermione really could look like me.
That’s why this casting is so important to me. While Rowling has never said that Hermione was white, this doesn’t mean that she isn’t. But it also doesn’t mean that she isn't a woman of color either. Casting Noma Dumezweni as Hermione makes it explicit rather than just something up in the air that everyone assumes is just white. I would have loved for Rowling to be more explicit in her books, with Hermione and with other characters. Diversity is extremely important and more children identify more with characters that explicitly look like them than the ones that are vaguely described. We need real representation, not unclear ones.
Of course, there has also been backlash from racist Potter “fans.” But honestly, I don’t even care. While their racism is a serious thing, I am just so happy that a character I have known and loved for most of my life actually looks like me that I couldn’t care less about their whining. And honestly, if making Hermione black stops you from enjoying a series that you have grown up with, read multiple times, and stood in long lines for the midnight premiere of the movies, then your racism is astounding. You aren’t capable of love or friendship, and I feel sorry for you.
The fact that a black woman was just cast as Hermione is a HUGE deal to me. In a story that has shaped my entire life, that I always come back to, that feels like home, I am actually represented. A few months ago, I wrote a post about what race bent Hermione Granger meant to me. Those feelings are now multiplied by 1000. “Race Bent” Hermione isn’t a thing anymore. She’s just Hermione. I am just Hermione. And I am so happy about it.