Hermione Granger: The Next Racebender

books, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, race

I was all set to write a review of The Lobster today. I watched it yesterday and really enjoyed it. Then something happened and parts of the internet went crazy… supposedly. It was announced today that the actress playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter play, The Cursed Child is Swaziland-born actress Noma Dumezweni. Now I’m pretty pissed with myself for talking about this because the whole idea of doing an eighth installment as a stage show is fucking stupid. Not just because it’s going against all those times Rowling said she was done with Potter but because it also means so many fans will miss out. However, the story has blown up on new sites with many journalists defending the decision to the naysayers. That, my friends, is the reason I’ve decided to break my silence. Not the defence itself: I couldn’t care less who plays Hermione Granger because, in my opinion, nobody can be more annoying than Emma fucking Watson. No, I’m annoyed because is there really any need to defend it?

The media tend to sensationalise things and there is nothing that gets them more riled up than matters of race. Now I agree that there is a definite whitewashing taking place in film and television at the moment that needs to be addressed. However, we can’t let every little thing turn into a platform to debate when there is no debate. I’ve read a fair few of these “Why shouldn’t Hermione be black?” posts today and have seen no real evidence of any of these naysayers. I’m not saying there won’t be. The world is full of small-minded idiots that can’t handle things like this. However, the overriding feeling seems to be that Harry Potter fans are in favour of this.

In fact the Harry Potter fandom at large probably has less of a problem playing with the race of their beloved characters than any other fandom out there. Just browse Tumblr for a moment and you’ll see racebent illustrations of the main trio all over the fucking place. Especially when it comes to Hermione. There is a great sense of mirroring when you imagine that she suffers prejudice in the muggle world only to be taken out of it and into a world where she is again viewed negatively by many. It makes the already strong and intelligent female an even greater character. Imagine Hermione as a girl who has spent her whole life being judged for something she cannot help whilst she still upholds her beliefs and her sense of self. Fucking brilliant.

There is no doubt that Emma Watson is, in many ways, the epitome of Hermione’s character. She is clever, articulate, strong and has a unflinching moral stance. She is everything JK Rowling wanted Hermione to be. Well, with the exception of her face. Rowling has stated often that Emma Watson didn’t have the right look to play Hermione. In fact, it was only after talking to Watson on the phone that the author decided she was destined to play the schoolgirl. Emma Watson is a beautiful girl which helps Hollywood execs but doesn’t quite fit in with the books.

So what do we know about Hermione Granger’s physical appearance? Well, other than her bushy brown hair, brown eyes and large front teeth, not very much. Hermione isn’t a character that is defined by the way she looks but rather by the kind of person she is. In fact, for the most part JK Rowling didn’t seem to give a shit about the physical appearance of most of her characters. It’s all about who they are not what they look like. Which of course begs the question, why does it matter that the new Hermione Granger is black?

There is the obvious answer of bigotry and the idea that race-swap is political correctness gone mad. However, I’d say the most obvious answer is the films. The hardcore Tumblr fans clearly don’t have much of a problem with the new actress playing Hermione and Rowling herself has come out in favour of the casting. It’s the fans of the films that don’t seem to be able to handle it. The fact is, we have gone from having a very beautiful, young Emma Watson looking Hermione to a very non-Emma Watson looking Hermione.

Nobody likes change and when you become so familiar with a character looking a certain way it’s an adjustment when they change. This isn’t about race per se, but about our unwillingness to move on. The Harry Potter films are such a big part of people’s past that changing it could feel like you’re whole worldview has been skewed. Fans relate to books and films in such a strong and emotional way that seemingly tampering with them in any way feels like a betrayal. I mean we’ve been witnessing the fragile emotional state of Star Wars fans since 1999. When something becomes set in a fans head it can be difficult to rewrite it.  We don’t have to immediately start to imply people are just bigots.

I’m not saying the media are wrong to discuss race in relation to this announcement. I think there will always be a platform to bring up issues of race in theatre, film and television. However, was it necessary to have the sheer volume of articles announcing that it’s okay to have Hermione played by Dumezweni? Doesn’t this only strengthen the idea that society’s major feeling is that it isn’t? The more you have to disagree with something the more you’re suggesting that viewpoint is the norm. How are we supposed to move past the idea that a hero is automatically white until stated otherwise if the media continue to treat ever announcement in this way? It’s not like someone’s just discovered Nessie for fuck’s sake. An actress of colour has taken a role originally played by a white teenager. Why can’t we all just see it for what it is? Absolutely fine.

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