Jo Talks Books: On Hermione Being Black In The New Harry Potter Play

Hey everyone! If you’ve been keeping up with my Top Ten Tuesday posts then you would have seen that one of my bookish resolutions this year was to start doing discussion posts on this blog, as I have always enjoyed reading other people’s discussion posts and wanted to try my hand at writing my own and thus my new feature Jo Talks Books was born. I will be posting at least twice a month, possibly more if I have a lot of ideas I want to talk about in a particular month. For my first topic, I decided to talk about something that has been quite big in the news recently, the casting of a black actress to play the adult Hermione Granger in the new Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I would like to say that I don’t mean to offend with this post, these are just my opinions.

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback at first when I heard who had been cast as Hermione in the play, simply because I’m part of the Harry Potter generation, I grew up with it and because of that Hermione Granger and Emma Watson are intrinsically linked in my mind, Emma Watson is Hermione for me, so obviously, Noma Dumezweni is not quite who I’d picture as the adult version of Hermione. I’ve always pictured Hermione as white, I guess because I always really related to Hermione, she reminded me a lot of me, so it’s natural that I pictured her with the same colour skin as I have. Does this mean that she can’t be of a different race in the play? Of course not. I mean the actors who are playing Harry and Ron in the play don’t exactly look much like Harry and Ron are described in the books, but you don’t hear everyone complaining about that do you? The joy of reading books is that different people can imagine different characters in their own way and I’m sure that one person’s version of Hermione would be different from someone else’s (though I imagine that since the movies have come out, most people picture Emma Watson as Hermione) so I am sure there are plenty of people who have pictured Hermione as black, after all her race is never outright stated in the books. We all just assume we know Hermione’s race because of our own cultural expectations and the picture that we were presented in the movies. Plus it seems a little stupid for people to object to the actress playing Hermione being black when prejudice is one of the main themes in the Harry Potter series.

I have to admit I’d never heard of Noma Dumezweni before she was cast, but apparently she’s a very good actress and if she was given the part she must have been considered the best person for it, so doesn’t that matter far more than the way she looks? After all, there are plenty of characters in movies who are played by actors that don’t necessarily fit the description of the character in the book but as long as they play the character in a way that’s true to how they are written in the book, does it really matter that their appearance doesn’t match? For example Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t really match the appearance of Katniss given in The Hunger Games book, but she played the character really well, so the fact that her appearance didn’t match, doesn’t really matter. The same I’m sure is true here. This is simply another interpretation of the character and as long as the traits that we know and love the character for remain in the play, it really doesn’t matter what the actress who plays her looks like. Plus the most important thing is that JK Rowling as the author approves of the direction her characters are taken in with this play and she has clearly stated that she approves of the casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione.

What do you think? Do you think that we (rightly or wrongly) always assume that if a character’s race is not stated then they are white? Do you think the play’s canon should match the film’s canon or should they be treated as completely different entities? What would your interpretation of Hermione’s race be? Let’s discuss, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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14 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Hermione Being Black In The New Harry Potter Play

  1. Olivia Ashryver January 11, 2016 / 10:21 pm

    Great post! I completely agree! I don’t think Hermione should be the exact same in the play as she was in the movies because obviously a person will change in almost 20 years. As long as her basic traits are the same, I’m okay with it. 🙂

  2. iloveheartlandx January 11, 2016 / 10:28 pm

    Thanks! Yeah I completely agree, I just want Hermione to be recognizable as the character I love, her appearance doesn’t really matter to that.

  3. Beth (Reading Every Night) January 11, 2016 / 10:31 pm

    I agree with you about Emma Watson being Hermione in my mind simply because of the films, but I’ve seen tons of fan-art featuring Hermione as black so for me this just seems like a logical step.
    I am very excited to see Noma Dumezweni play Hermione though, I’m interested to see what she brings to the role and obviously I’m excited to see the play itself 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx January 11, 2016 / 10:45 pm

      Yeah, it’s like that when you see a film version of a book, the actors who play the characters get so fixed in your mind that you can’t picture anyone else as that character. I know, it’s very exciting to see what the new actors will bring to these characters that we all know so well!

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) January 11, 2016 / 10:50 pm

        I think it’s going to be strange seeing different people playing Harry, Ron and Hermione TBH I cant see anyone else playing any of the Harry Potter characters. I’m sure it’ll end be being brilliant no matter who they cast though. Are you going to see the play?

      • iloveheartlandx January 11, 2016 / 11:06 pm

        Yeah it definitely would be weird, but like you I’m sure it will be brilliant. Depends if we can get tickets or not, it’s mostly sold out!

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) January 11, 2016 / 11:16 pm

        I think it will be interesting seeing it performed on a stage as well, rather than in a cinema. I hope you do manage to get tickets, there seem to be plenty of performances of it so I’m sure you will 🙂

      • iloveheartlandx January 11, 2016 / 11:17 pm

        Yeah it definitely would be. I hope so, it would be really great!

  4. Zezee January 12, 2016 / 12:02 am

    I was surprised as well but I didn’t object to it. Hollywood is known for casting white actors for roles that are for people of color. For example, I saw a poster on FB for a movie on gods in Egyptian mythology and the majority of the cast is white. I think there’s only one actor of color in the major roles repping the gods.

    I like that they decided to use a black actress for Hermione because doing that makes us aware of the easy assumptions we make when reading. Often when the race or color of the character isn’t stated outright we assume that the character is white. I did that. And also I’m so used to the movies that when I picture Hermione I see Emma as well. I would prefer though that authors just state all that in the story instead of admitting it afterwards when people start asking questions (thinking of Rowling saying that Dumbledore is gay).

    • iloveheartlandx January 12, 2016 / 10:46 am

      Oh yeah, I certainly don’t object to it. Yes, Hollywood definitely does do that and it’s a real problem especially in movies like the one you mentioned where casting white actors actually could be kind of offensive. Yeah I like that it does that too, I never really thought about it before, but unless the race of a character in a book is stated, I too always picture them as white. Yeah that’s true of me too, I grew up with them movies, so Emma Watson will always be Hermione to me. Yeah so do I, because it kind of makes you think that it’s something they decided after writing than something that they always knew about the character.

  5. nevillegirl January 12, 2016 / 8:04 am

    Well, Hermione’s race is never stated, and there are multiple descriptions of her hair and skin that led many people to headcanon her as black, so I wasn’t that surprised. (Also, for what it’s worth, although Emma Watson is a decent actress, she was never what I thought Hermione looked like. Her hair and teeth were completely wrong!)

    It’s funny that you should mention Katniss – she was written to be mixed-race (olive skin =/= white, and the whole thing about her mom’s family being mad when she married her dad certainly has racial undertones), yet the filmmakers put out a casting call for only white actresses. :/

    There’s a word for when people assume characters are white unless stated otherwise, but it’s super late right now and I’m tired and can’t remember. But I’ll see if I can think of it in the morning! I know I’ve definitely been guilty of doing this in the past – I was reading one of the Skulduggery Pleasant books and it described a minor character as black, and that made me realize that when he was first introduced a couple of sentences ago, I’d just automatically assumed he was white. And I shouldn’t. So now when I make fancasts, I cast people of all races and don’t really justify my choices in terms of race, because it’s so rarely stated which one someone is.

    • iloveheartlandx January 12, 2016 / 10:41 am

      I was probably surprised for the two reasons I mentioned, Emma Watson will always be Hermione to me and because I related so strongly to Hermione as I kid so I always imagined her looking like me. Yeah, I have to admit, Emma Watson was perhaps too pretty to play Hermione, but aside from that she played the part well, so that never really mattered to me. I never knew that the filmmakers only put out a call for white actresses but it wouldn’t surprise me, since Hollywood has a history of whitewashing characters. Like I said, I didn’t mind so much there because I thought Jennifer Lawrence did a great job. Funny, I can’t think of it either! I’ll have to look it up. Oh it’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of doing too, unless someone is automatically stated as a POC, I always picture them as white, it’s really bad.

  6. Bri January 12, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    Great Post! I think it’s great how they’re making an effort to not white-wash casting. Personally, I think the differences with all of the casting will help separate this from the movies so they can stand on their own merit.

    • iloveheartlandx January 12, 2016 / 8:05 pm

      Thanks! Yeah I totally agree, I like that the cast looks completely different from the movie cast, so people are less likely to compare.

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