Culture

J.K. Rowling Defends Black Hermione in New Harry Potter Stage Play

Noma Dumezweni as Linda 'Linda' Play by Penelope Skinner performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, UK, 30 Nov 2015 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Hermione is now black, Harry Potter fans, and you had best get used to it. That’s the message author J.K. Rowling has for critics of the decision to recast the beloved character in a new stage play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues the story of the books several years after their end. From The Guardian:

“With my experience of social media, I thought that idiots were going to idiot,” she said in an interview with the Observer. “But what can you say? That’s the way the world is. Noma [Dumezweni] was chosen because she was the best actress for the job.”

While the vast majority of people responded positively to the casting decision, Rowling said: “I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione ‘turned white’ – that is, lost colour from her face after a shock – that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.”

Racial casting changes always spark controversy. But not all such decisions are equal.

In some cases, the race of a character proves integral to who they are, how they perceive their world, and how they are perceived. For instance, it would prove absurd to recast John Shaft or Marvel’s Black Panther as white men.

In other cases, there may be narrative reasons why a character should be portrayed a certain way. The recasting of Johnny Storm as a black man in the latest iteration of Fantastic Four proved jarring because it arbitrarily altered the character’s familial relationships.

More often than not, however, a character’s race does not define them. Nothing was lost when Perry White or Nick Fury were recast as black men in their respective franchises.

It all depends on the narrative context. In the case of Hermione, nothing about the character demands she be portrayed as white, a conclusion all the more definitive when affirmed by the author.