People all over the world (and this office) are buzzing about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a canonical new wizarding-world story rolling into London’s West End. The play, set 19 years after the ending of the last novel, finds Potter & Co. grappling with their painful pasts and the adventures of their Hogwarts-aged children. Die-hard fans will always get anxious over how their beloved characters are depicted onstage, but we are typically put at ease when an author endorces the actors portraying their characters. However, there’s a faction of the Harry Potter fanbase that’s made their discontent with the casting of a character repeatedly, and loudly, known: racists.
And that’s exactly how J.K. Rowling sees the backlash to the casting of Noma Dumezweni.
Dumezweni is an Olivier award winning actress, London’s equivalent of the Tonys. She was cast as Hermione for the stage play and some fans had viscerally negative reactions to a black woman playing the role. Rowling’s already had to address this topic once before, gently remarking that Dumezweni’s looks are in order with the way Hermione is described in the books: “Brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified.”
Still, certain agitators continue to belly-ache over the choice as the play’s premiere draws closer. Rowling stepped in again as producer and – we cannot overstate this – creator of Hermione to put the issue to bed for good. As she told The Guardian in an interview:
“With my experience of social media, I thought that idiots were going to idiot,” she says. “But what can you say? That’s the way the world is. Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job… 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.”
It’s laudable that Rowling would so gleefully embrace interpretation of her works this way. This change, however small or large someone perceives it to be, can have a profound effect on old fans and new readers alike. The Cursed Child is set to begin previews on June 7th – tomorrow if you’re reading this the day of publication – so it’s unclear what the #WhiteHermione crowd was hoping to accomplish or, if they were pitching for a re-cast, how plays work.
Featured image courtesy of The Guardian