Let me start by saying the Harry Potter books were magical. I was one of the millions who queued for hours outside bookstores at midnight before the release of each new one and read it with relish, totally believing in the world of wizards, witches and warlocks created by J K Rowling. I’ve briefly met J K and she is a goddess. I’ve done the studio tour at Leavesden. I’ve bought the over priced merchandise
I’m a fan.
However, I found myself peeved, yes, peeved, that odd little word that captures the sort of niggling emotion that is not quite anger and not quite annoyance at a claim Rowling made on Twitter today.
It all started when news broke of the casting for a play based on a short story Rowling has written featuring grown up versions of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger . The play is called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it managed to get lots of free publicity by casting black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger, the school swot in the Potter books.
At the time of writing social media, which loves a ‘race controversy’, is abuzz with thousands of people declaring that it really doesn’t matter what colour the actress is. Of course, it doesn’t.
What is silly though is all the people claiming that, come to think of it, there is nothing in the books to say Hermione isn’t black. Suddenly, some people ‘remember’ that they probably assumed she was black because she is described in the books as having big hair.
Even JK Rowling herself jumped on the bandwagon tweeting this gem: Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione.
Really JK? Really??
In 18 years, 7 books and 8 films it has never occurred to you to point this out; that one of your lead characters is actually, possibly ground-breakingly black?
When Warner Brothers adapted the books to screen (to wild success and huge financial gain for all concerned) it was pointed out that JK Rowling was closely involved in the process. She was no ordinary writer, who could be ignored, she was the creator of Harry Potter, the biggest children’s book series of modern times, if not all time.
Where Hollywood wanted American actors like Oscar nominee Hayley Joel Osment to play Potter, Rowling reportedly insisted that the actors be British. All Reports at the time noted that the author ‘fought’ studio efforts and those of Steven Spielberg to cast experienced American child actors. She pushed too for her favourites such as Dame Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane to play pivotal adult roles.
There was no mention at that time of Rowling pushing for a black girl to play Hermione. Not a word that this huge role could and indeed should go to a black actress because the author had envisaged her so.
Indeed at the time David Heyman, the producer, said every effort would be made to reproduce Rowling’s vision in the films. “We are devoted to remaining true and faithful to the book.” Again no mention of her disappointment that the wicked studios had refused to cast a black Hermione.
Fans and critics alike are now speed reading through the 7 books to find references to Hermione’s blackness or any hint of an ethnicity other than white. There aren’t any. There is a reference to her ‘white face’ at a moment when she is scared and her looking brown after a holiday, otherwise nothing.
As we say in court when trying to be courteous about it, your honour, the witness is being rather disingenuous in that assertion.
So, I put it to you, Ms Rowling, creative goddess that you are, that your tweet is rather disingenuous. It is a little late to drop this nugget after the multi million dollars books and film deals are in the bag and Potter mania is long gone.
As another tweet succinctly and rather cynically put it; funny how all these socially progressive revelations such as Dumbledore being gay or Hermione plausibly being black never quite made it into the books.
And to the black social media users and writers who are ecstatic about this casting in a relatively small play that is a weak offshoot of the real Harry Potter universe, please aim higher. If Hermione had really been envisaged as a black girl she would have been so in the blockbuster films.
If children of different ethnicities are really to feel represented in best selling books and box office hits we need writers of those ethnicities (or even not) to openly write characters like them who become as iconic and loved as Hermione Granger.