Did you hear? Hermione Granger is black.
The announcement of Noma Dumezweni’s upcoming portrayal of Hermione Granger in the stage-play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child happened a few months ago. And the internet blew up for a few days about it.
Obviously Emma Watson is white… so, doesn’t that mean Hermione is meant to be white?
Well, the answer is no. Even directly from J. K. Rowling’s twitter feed.
Skin tone was never specified.
And this is huge.
J. K. Rowling developed an amazing, beautiful character that inspired young girls (and boys!) around the globe to be smart and courageous and a true friend… all without telling us whether she was black or white or mixed or what-have-you.
And this is wonderful.
But it also races the question. If Hermione could have been any race imaginable, why is instinct to assume she’s Caucasian?
Of course, with the release of the movies, there’s no denying Emma Watson’s fantastic portrayal of the character. So, it makes sense. But, what about before the books were turned into films?
Maybe it’s the obscene amount of whitewashing in Hollywood. Maybe it’s the fact that we simply don’t see many POC leading characters. Maybe it’s because it’s expected.
But, why does it have to be like this?
Why is there an uproar when the gorgeous Michael B. Jordan is cast as Johnny Storm, but Rooney Mara can play Tiger Lily? Why does race matter when it doesn’t, but doesn’t when it does?
Let me clarify.
I’m not saying that all characters should be able to be played by any race ever. I’m a firm believer that race can be a huge factor in developing a character. Tiger Lily should not be cast as a white woman because she’s meant to be Native American. Her heritage is a key factor that is important to her character. Just as much as Ron Weasley being a white, ginger kid is important to his character.
However, in certain contexts, I don’t think it makes a difference. Sometimes a character is just a character, beyond race. This is true for any customized character in any video game, for Johnny Storm, for Hermione Granger.
Hermione has always been one of my favorite characters of literature – heck, ever – and the color of her skin never mattered to me. While I’m totally guilty of envisioning her as a white girl during my initial read-throughs, I plan on rereading the series soon with black Hermione as my personal canon. And clearly, I’m not alone.
The point is that sometimes race shouldn’t define a character. But, when it doesn’t, why can’t we start picturing these characters as POC? I challenge you during your next book read to imagine the main character as black or Hispanic or Asian…. Try it.
Can you think of any other characters you would like to see as a POC? Or maybe a character you envisioned as POC who wasn’t cast as such? Let us know in the comments below!