'Harry Potter and The Cursed Child' celebrates diversity with its casting of Hermione

Tanvi Kanchan

Jun 06, 2016 18:17:52 IST

When the part of Hermione Granger Weasley in the upcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child went to Noma Dumezweni, the online fandom exploded, and the decision to portray Hermione as a black woman on-stage was met with a large amount of resistance from some fans.

The play, which will preview at the West End’s Palace Theatre in London on June 7th and 9th, has been described as the, “eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.” It has been co-written by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, and will officially open its doors to audiences on July 30th, 2016.

 Harry Potter and The Cursed Child celebrates diversity with its casting of Hermione

Ron Weasley (played by Paul Thornley) and Hermoine Granger (played by Noma Dumezweni) and Cherrelle Skeete as Rose Granger-Weasley. Image from Facebook: Pottermore

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up from where the epilogue of the Deathly Hallows left off, nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The fandom went crazy, but the hysteria over a canonical addition to one of the largest book and movie franchises in the world was somewhat dampened by the strong online opposition and furore over the casting of Olivier Award winner Dumezweni.

It’s hardly surprising. In an industry that grants little to no visibility to actors of colour even for roles written as non-white, casting Dumezweni as a character whose appearance has long since been associated by viewers with the brilliant but undoubtedly white Emma Watson, has been met with resistance at best and thinly veiled racist sentiment at worst.

Of course, I don’t seem to remember the same kind of outcry when the movies’ version of Lavender Brown suddenly changed race mid-series; but then again, it never seems to be as big a deal when a white actor replaces one of colour.

This racist hue and cry also seems a lot like the time when many Hunger Games fans took to Twitter because they simply didn’t understand how the characters of Rue, Cinna, and Thresh could possibly be played by Amandla Stenberg, Lenny Kravitz, and Dayo Okeniyi respectively. Most tweets said that the movie had “ruined” all the good characters in the book with the casting of black actors, and that Rue was now just “too black,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Rowling then took to Twitter to clarify her stance on Dumezweni’s casting, saying that she had never explicitly described Hermione’s race in the books. She also stated that the casting of Dumezweni as Hermione, Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley, and Jamie Parker as Harry Potter, were all of her first choices for the characters. She also added that the casting was also backed by John Tiffany.

There are a couple of on-stage productions and movies that are practicing colour-blind casting, but they are few and far between. The long-running television medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy famously went down that path for its casting: none of the characters were assigned a race in the script, and the best actor for the part was chosen.

While the production team hasn’t stated that they intentionally casted blind for the play, diversity has been an issue that has been brought up repeatedly in conjunction to the Harry Potter series. Many people pointed out that there didn’t seem to be a single person of colour in the trailer for the upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander.

Taking a closer look at the books as well, I can spot only seven major characters that are written as explicitly non-white: Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan, twins Parvati and Padma Patil, Cho Chang, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Angelina Johnson.


The poster for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

It’s therefore slightly difficult to accept Rowling’s tweet as little more than an afterthought, an attempt to welcome racial diversification of her originally very, very white cast of characters. A black Hermione also adds another layer of complexity to the plotline of Voldemort’s pursuit of a ‘pure blooded’ wizarding population and hatred for everyone else, which many have interpreted as a parallel to racial cleansing and the idea of the ‘master race’.

For my part, I’m thrilled to see that Dumezweni is portraying Hermione on-stage, and will give the character a dimension different from the one brought by Emma Watson. Of course, I mean that metaphorically since I highly doubt that I’m ever going to catch the production on stage in all its glory, since it’s happening a continent away – but a girl can dream.

It’s also super exciting to see actress Cherrelle Skeete cast as Rose Weasley, Ron and Hermione’s daughter. The Harry Potter series of books have been a companion to generations of children worldwide, and it’s about time it started to reflect the delightful diversity of all its readers.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2016 08:37:07 IST