Given the postmodernist/postcolonial filter through which I was exposed to English literature, I’ve always been wary of taking authorial intent as the end-all/be-all of textual interpretation and deconstruction, but it’s also true that Hermione Granger’s skin color was never mentioned in the text, as pointed out by the author herself.
Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione 😘 https://t.co/5fKX4InjTH— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 21, 2015
J.K. Rowling Just Said She Loves a Black Hermione: “White Skin Was Never Specified” • 2015 Dec 21 • Jon Levine • News.Mic
This blew up when Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione Granger in a play set in the Harry Potter universe entitled “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” that takes place 19 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
We’re thrilled to confirm Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni & Paul Thornley will play Harry, Hermione & Ron #CursedChild pic.twitter.com/s1rsDbrXMO— Harry Potter Play (@HPPlayLDN) December 21, 2015
The fact of the matter is that we don’t live in a colorblind society (and I’m not sure that’s really what we should be aiming for, at least not in the “I don’t see skin color” sense, but that’s another rant entirely), and media representation matters a lot in terms of how people of color (and people in general) imagine their future.
And it’s not just what kind of occupation opportunities there are (because, sure, hardly anyone ever becomes a wizard in real life these days.) It’s about being able to be the hero and not having anyone put you or people who look like you down because it’s “obvious” that they’re just a “affirmative action beneficiary” or a “PC/diversity hire”.
People have never had any problem with white people playing characters who were explicitly described as Asian or black or Chicano/Latino or Native American, but when a person of color is cast for a role where the ethnicity or skin color is not specified, there’s all sorts of crazed outrage.
When I figured out that almost all the people in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea were brown or black, even the mages and the kings, it was a revelation.
When I realized that Johnny Rico in the novel version of Starship Troopers was actually Filipino, I had a weird sense of pride.
And what all the protests on college campuses were about wasn’t about “hurt feelings”. It was about lack of representation, lack of role models, and lack of access to history that hasn’t been totally whitewashed and sterilized.
I know some people will think it’s just “reverse racism”, but I really think it’s because they cannot imagine a world where the default depiction of a person of elevated stature—real or fictional—is white.
(crossposted on Facebook)
What A “Racebent” Hermione Granger Really Represents • 2015 Feb 1 • Alanna Bennett • Buzzfeed