Your recent comments about people who are displeased with the casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has saddened me. All I know of what you’ve said about Dumexweni and her critics is what I’ve read in the media. You and I both know how reliable they are. Grains of salt are required, sure. Alas, the comments I’ve read I find a bit unsettling. Mainly this:
While the vast majority of people responded positively to the casting decision, Rowling said: “I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione ‘turned white’ – that is, lost colour from her face after a shock – that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.”
Rowling has pointed out that there is no reason why Hermione should be white. The books don’t explicitly mention her race or skin colour, and she is often portrayed as black in fan art.
Do I doubt certain segments of Twitter used vile, racist language? No, Twitter is a sewer. But I too was taken aback at the casting of a black woman for a white character. No, that doesn’t make me a racist.
Here’s the problem, and why I disclaimed with the media comment. You qualify people as racists simply for them pointing out you used the expression “Hermione turned white.” You qualify people as racists for them simply stating Hermione is white. If that’s your definition of racist… oh boy. You do know many of these people are your fans, right? Right?
There are several canonical reasons people assume Hermione is a white character (more on that below). But to paint all of them with a broad racism brush is unfair. Borderline cruel. Especially after the character was portrayed in eight films, spanning ten years, as white. Why is it racist for people to assume a play featuring the beloved characters some twenty years later, bear some semblance to those in film? Or books?
The issue here Jo isn’t a matter of racism. It’s a matter of continuity.
If Dean Thomas plays a role in Cursed Child, fans would be equally as vocal if portrayed by someone of Korean heritage. Or by Tilda Swinton.
Was Hermione ever described as white? No. Nor was Hagrid. Or McGonnagal. Here’s the problem, Jo: characters with darker skin were described as having darker skin. Specifically if they were black:
- Dean Thomas is described in Philosopher’s Stone: “‘Thomas, Dean,’ a Black boy even taller than Ron, joined Harry at the Gryffindor table.” (“Black” is capitalized in my book)
- Kingsley Shacklebolt is introduced in Order of the Phoenix “‘And this is Kingsley Shacklebolt’ — he indicated the tall black wizard who bowed.”
- The race of Blaise Zabini was put to rest in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry “recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes.”
So when a character was black? It was called out. By you. This is awkward.
Which means people who assume Hermione is white? They’re not wrong.
Here’s the smoking portkey: Hermione, after spending the summer abroad in France with plenty of sun, is observed as being “very brown” sitting alongside a freckled Ron Weasley outside Florean Fortesque’s Ice Cream parlor in Prisoner of Azkaban. An odd thing to note about a character who, in your words, “could be black.” Typically one doesn’t observe a person with dark skin having darker skin if they’ve been exposed to the sun. Unless that person is white and now they’re not… because tans.
Also, this sketch of yours? Hermione is white. But we’re the ones who are racist for thinking she’s white. Got it.
So no, not all Hermione is white chanters are a bunch of racists. Again, some of them might be racist trolls. I grant you that. But most are not. Their imaginations were dutiful to the descriptions you provided. Reinforced by eight films.
Sure, perhaps you were wedged between a blast-ended skrewt and a Hungarian Horntail. I can only imagine the trolling crapstorm you’d have to paddle through if you’d dared say “Hermione is white” to a casting director. One cannot evanesco that mess.
But to toss everyone on the other side, who scratched their head and dared say “…But Hermione is white…” as a bunch of racists? Is tolerance only a virtue if one subscribes to the same way of thinking as those doling out this supposed “tolerance”?
Racism is terrible, yes. But to dilute the term, to assign it to people who envisioned a character as white, who was (I say again) portrayed as white, is not only unfair, it belittles actual racism. To say some people will not see the play because Hermione is now black as “racism” is simply wrong. This new physical version of Hermione is hard for people to wrap their imaginations around, when they’ve imagined someone else for as long as 19 years. It would be equally jarring if Harry got contact lenses (I note from the cast photos he still has the same round frames), if Ginny went goth, or if Ron died his hair blue. We imagine the characters a certain way: including their appearance. Including their race. Altering their appearance then demanding readers alter their vision of the characters? I’m not sure what that term is called. But it certainly isn’t tolerant. And it’s definitely not racist.
~Written by Courtney Kirchoff
*updated to include sketch of Hermione and gang…