Hours before the world gets its first new Harry Potter story since the series ended in 2007, JK Rowling, unsurprisingly, has a rather harsh opinion of a controversy that just refuses to settle down.
Last week, we got our first look at Numa Dumezweni’s Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play everyone involved is calling ‘the eighth Harry Potter story.’ For those completely unaware, the image of a black woman playing Hermione would have come as a surprise. It was a far cry from the girl with the ‘bushy brown hair’ and the ‘rather large front teeth’ they’d grown up with. Many of them might have left angry, immature comments in retaliation.
Here’s what Rowling had to say
Of course Hermione could be a black woman. But that’s beside the point. Had writer Jack Thorne been feeling more adventurous, Hermione could have very easily been a man in this new version, the homosexual partner to a gay Ron. Would it be homophobic or sexist to voice disapproval of such a drastic change?
You see, JK Rowling, and many others, are missing the point. The problem isn’t the colour of Hermione’s skin. If skin colour was a problem and if people were racist then they’d never have accepted Kingsley Shacklebolt as the de-facto leader of the aurors. The problem, simply, is that changing Hermione’s skin colour seems like a deliberately desperate knee-jerk attempt to please millenials and uber-liberal hipsters of the post-social media age. The fear of seeming behind these volatile times prompted them to take this ill-advised decision.
The writers’ heart is in the right place. The Harry Potter universe is uncomfortably white. It always has been. But since racial diversity wasn’t such a touchy pop culture subject 20 years ago, Rowling managed to get away with only 4, maybe 5 black side characters (Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, Angelina Johnson, Blaise Zabini and the aforementioned Kingsley). For a universe as magical, as rich as the Harry Potter-verse, all the main characters were white. But it’s 2016: Stuff like this just doesn’t fly anymore.
And it’s not only about Hermione. It’s safe to assume that fans would’ve had a similarly outraged reaction had other beloved characters been put through odd physical transformations. Are they expected to accept, with an indifferent shrug, a scar-less Harry? Are they supposed to not question a dark haired Ron?
Once again, the colour of the skin is not the problem. The problem is that a rather drastic change has been made to a character for no real reason. The best way to address the lack of diversity in the Potterverse would’ve been to create new racially diverse characters, from all over the world - characters that would go on to amass their own fans, be role models to kids from all walks of life and inspire them. Just like Harry, Ron and Hermione did.