With the first preview for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child only two days away, the anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. Most of the advance reaction to the theater production has been uncontrollable excitement, but one piece of production news caused some unexpected controversy. The casting of a black Hermione brought out ugly racism among some fans, and now author J.K. Rowling is firing back, saying that the racists who said Hermione couldn't be black were wrong.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which officially opens in London in July, follows the world's most famous wizard and his friends as adults sending their own children off to Hogwarts. When the casting of the central trio was announced back in December, everyone quickly focused on the news that Noma Dumezweni, a wildly accomplished actress who also happens to be black, was going to play Hermione. Many on social media cheered the news. But, of course, a subset of the internet soon reared its racist head, with some fans insisting that Hermione was white, and it was unacceptable to portray her any other way.
Rowling immediately pointed out on Twitter that, although Hermione had previously been portrayed as a white woman by Emma Watson in the movies, the books never actually specified her race.
And in a recent interview with The Guardian, Rowling elaborated on the whole controversy, saying:
With my experience of social media, I thought that idiots were going to idiot. But what can you say? That’s the way the world is. Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job. When John told me he’d cast her, I said, ‘Oh, that’s fabulous’ because I’d seen her in a workshop and she was fabulous... 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.
If the people getting so upset had bothered to pay attention to fan art and fan theories, maybe they wouldn't have been so surprised by the casting. As a reminder, Hermione, aka the best character in the series and an inspiration to countless girls around the world, is the child of non-magical parents. This causes many in the "pure" wizarding community to use the hateful epithet "Mudblood" to describe her. The racially-charged elements of this, along with descriptions of her "frizzy" hair, have led some fans to think of Hermione as black for years now, long before any outside casting lent credence to the theory.
So hopefully the "idiots" can "idiot" in their internet rabbit hole, and the rest of us can just enjoy watching a talented actress play a well-loved character with lots of fascinating layers. That is, if we can get tickets.