In “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: This is Why J.K. Rowling Loves Black Hermione” Anna Menta writes how Harry Potter fans have had mixed reactions to the casting of a black actress as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In her article, Menta makes a strong point as to how in the original Harry Potter series Hermione is described as having “brown eyes” and “frizzy hair,” and how her race is never specified. Menta’s article includes an interview with Noma Dumezweni, who has been cast as Hermione in the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In Menta’s interview with Dumezweni, Menta asks Dumezweni if she was “surprised by the passion of [the] backlash” she received, to which Dumezweni replied that “[people] have a reaction without knowing anything about what [the play] is.” Dumezweni also added that quick, emotional reactions such as these are not uncommon in today’s world, and that critics of black Hermione lack creativity and imagination.
I agree with Dumezweni, but would even go a step further and say that critics of black Hermione are culturally numb to the immense impact casting a strong, intelligent, female character as a woman of color will have on future generations of girls. As of now, black girls do not see themselves very heavily portrayed in the media, and, when they do, it is often not in a positive light. Thus, casting a character such as Hermione Granger, who is (as Menta notes) “passionate,” “irritatingly smart,” and “commanding” (not to mention one of the most adored literary characters of all time) provides black girls with an opportunity to identify with a character who embodies female empowerment, and to recognize that they have the ability to not only catalyze change within society, but to shape the world into a better place. As Dumezweni states in her interview with Menta, after years and years of systematic racism and marginalization that has disproportionately hindered minority groups, representation matters.
On another note, those who are outraged at the casting of Hermione as a black woman in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child clearly recognize the importance of a strong female literary character, and I feel as though there is a high probability that many of the individuals complaining about this casting decision would consider themselves feminists. While this paradox is unfortunate, it is not surprising, as, over time, women of color have been left out of the feminist movement en masse. Thus, I think it is crucial that critics of black Hermione reflect on how racial biases may be affecting their judgement, and consider whether any issues they have with this casting call actually outweigh the bigger picture.
This brings me to my final point. Growing up, I was often called bossy when I attempted to take on leadership roles within groups, the latter of which lead me to believe that my leadership tendencies were a negative trait. However, reading the Harry Potter series growing up and having the opportunity to identify with a character such as Hermione Granger allowed me to recognize that my so-called “bossiness” was actually my greatest strength. I think it is imperative that girls of color who undoubtedly face more adversity than I did growing up due to their blackness are allowed this same opportunity, and I would strongly urge critics of the casting of black Hermione to check their privilege.