The Harry Potter saga continued this week with author JK Rowling’s play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, previewing for the public in London’s Palace theatre.
But as social media, mostly Twitter, exploded in fan reactions, it also stirred a blast-ended skrewt over the casting of Hermione (that’s a Harry Potter reference for non-Potterheads).
Numa Dumezweni, a black British actress, plays the intelligent best friend of Potter, a main character in the plot that continues from the last of the book series. When casting was announced, fans went into a frenzy, mostly coming off as racist when they objected to a black actor playing what was assumed to be a white character.
Us folks (and fans) in India will most likely never get to watch the play, but why should that stop us from joining the argument?
Amid raging arguments for and against Dumezweni as Hermione, Hindustan Times conducted a poll asking people if they approved of the change.
A majority 67% didn’t.
Of course, among this vote bank are those who feel nobody can replace the spunky Emma Watson as Hermione. As far as fan politics go, this is an understandable sentiment. After the books, Watson was the first to breathe cinematic life into the character, and commendably so.
Then there are those who feel a dark-skinned woman cannot replace a white-skinned ‘beauty’. For you lot, I have nothing to say except heave a heavy, disappointed sigh!
But, who I’m really addressing here are the Harry Potter nerds who feel betrayed by Rowling.
The author of the stupendously successful Harry Potter series received a lot of flak after endorsing Dumezweni. As the writer of the play, and the movie adaptations, Rowling was involved in casting on both occasions.
Technically speaking, casting a black actor is not a deviation from the books. At no point does Rowling explicitly state the colour of Hermione’s skin in the series. But, to be fair to the fans, Rowling does specifically identify those who aren’t white – Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas and Angelina Johnson to name a few.
So if you imagined Hermione to be white-skinned, it was only because you would never instinctively imagine a pivotal character as black unless nudged to. Surely, the underrepresentation of blacks in movies is also to blame.
Then there’s the matter that Emma Watson, the first Hermione in flesh, is a white actress.
I am sure Rowling herself must have imagined a white girl while penning the books.
There are also other ‘changes’ in the play: Every character – be it Harry, Draco or Ron – is being played by actors who don’t fit the text book description; people with entirely different noses, hair, eyes, etc (Ron is famously red-haired, and Harry, green-eyed; neither actors sport these characteristics).
Now, here’s my argument: These changes shouldn’t matter.
Fans would probably have been just as angry if Hermione was originally black and was played by a white actor. But put aside what you saw and read. The books and movies will always be there for you to go back to; at least give change a chance.
Perhaps, Rowling was late in realising that Harry Potter had a skewed representation of races. But, after all these years, she shows that she understands how, in this decade, the scales need to balance.
We found the best actress and she's black. Bye bye, now. https://t.co/1fGmP5znHP— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 10, 2016
True, you’ve read the books a hundred times, watched the movies many times more and now, you are set in your ways. The old way is the only way for things to be.
But, it sounds a little conservative, don’t you think?
Nothing should be sacred, nothing should be out of scope for change.
One of the winning truths of Harry Potter is that an underprivileged 11-year-old woke up to a new life full of magic and possibilities. If that is possible, why can’t Hermione be a black witch of equal brilliance, both on stage and off script?
Interact with author @Soumya1405