In 2005, when Octavia Butler’s novel Fledgling came out, I gave it to all of my nieces and “little” girl cousins. I wanted them to see themselves in sci-fi. This was a story about a Black woman vampire whose dark skin gave her an advantage over her vampire peers with less melanin when in the sun and also made her a target of hate for that very same advantage.
Ms. Butler, come through with the social/political/racial/cultural commentary! Yes, queen.
So when the cast for London’s upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was recently announced and Hermione Granger was presented as a Black woman, I was ecstatic. Here is this supremely smart witch and integral character in a beloved book and movie franchise as a Black woman. Score!
Of course it didn’t take long for the trolls to come out and try to tear down the idea of Hermione being Black.
@HPPlayLDN Not being racist but how can a black woman play Hermione? This play has lost all credibility.
— Agent S(ean Bassett) (@WhoPotterVian) December 21, 2015
— Augustine Jackson (@TheHighnessAJ) December 21, 2015
In the movie franchise, Hermione has always been played by a White woman, Emma Watson. But in the book series (the basis of the movie franchise), Hermione’s race was never made explicit.
J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter phenomenon, made it plain in a tweet.: "Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione."
Frizzy hair, brown eyes and very clever… shoooot, I might be Hermione while you playin’! And that’s the point. For so long, we (the general public) have been sold on the idea that any character who espouses the feelings and experiences of human-ness in media is White. White is the default and universal vessel of humanity. Bullsh*t.
That is unacceptable. Black life, feelings and experiences are universal too. We are human. In real life we snuggle, hang up on folks, buy frivolous things for the sake of face or begging and just generally do that whole “Hey, I’m a real person” thing.
In the face of the 2016 presidential election and Black Lives Matter demonstrations, media representations still matter, and something as powerful and far-reaching as Harry Potter is definitely a noteworthy issue.
It’s a sad state of affairs when a fictional character of ambiguous race can cause such a hullabaloo when it comes to casting. Yes, Black women are magic, but chill. Actress Noma Dumezweni is more than capable, and she will do an adult Hermione well. That’s not a guarantee as much as it is a fellow #BlackGirlMagic stamp of approval. The play takes place well after the movies leave off. Harry Potter and his cohorts will be middle aged with children of their own.
If you’re in London in the summer of 2016, check out Dumezweni and cheer her on as she lays down yet another layer of Black Girl humanity for the ages.