From left to right: Jamie Parker (Harry), Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) and Paul Thornley (Ron).
As soon as the casting was revealed I felt elated. As I said, this was a subject close to my heart but not just because of my adoration for Harry Potter. Some of you may not know this, but I studied Performing Arts for three years at University and wanted very badly to be an Actress before I began to love writing. The real lack of racial diversity found in Plays/Musicals/Films etc. troubles me just as much as the lack of it in books does. Viola Davis this year was the first black actress to win an 'Outstanding Actress' Emmy award and as she said in her acceptance speech:
"The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity."In truth, there are very little in the way of POC parts, certainly in comparison to those written for white people. It seems a shame that in 2015, skin colour can still be such a deciding factor. So for me, such a decision was a victory in so many ways.
While most people shared my enthusiasm as I took to Twitter to celebrate, I found that not all did. In fact, I even found horror among some of my supposed fellow Harry Potter fans. I found comments along the lines of "Hermione is supposed to be white, like in the films." and "Casting a black Hermione is obviously political correctness gone mad." that made me feel so ill I had to take a breather and stop myself from getting into a few huge arguments, especially as most of them started with "I'm not being racist but...".
Let's start with the books. As the source Harry Potter material, surely all it would take is a simple descriptor of Hermione's skin colour to clear up whether Rowling intended Hermione to be a POC or not. The only descriptors found throughout the series refer to Hermione's 'bushy brown hair' and 'rather large front teeth' and 'brown eyes'. The only quote that even slightly indicates her skin tone is found in 'The Prisoner Of Azkaban' where she is described as being 'very brown' after her holiday abroad. Of course this still leaves no clarification as it could refer to her natural skin colour being brown or a tan after being out in the sun.
Simply put: Rowling has not ever said that Hermione is white. By assuming that a lack of quote proving she is of an ethnic minority must mean she is white, you are being incredibly disrespectful. In truth, Rowling has chosen to leave it to interpretation. The films of course chose to cast Emma Watson and that is fine too. As the play is not a follow-on from the films, there is no need to cast someone who looks like an older Emma Watson. It is also important to remember that Emma Watson had bushy hair only in the very early films and certainly didn't have prominent teeth. She was of course a phenomenal actress and played the role brilliantly, which is all that should be important as far as I'm concerned.
In terms of Dumezweni's acting career, I would say that it is impressive to say the least. She has appeared in a multitude of TV programmes, Theatre productions and Radio shows making her credentials very admirable (minor roles in Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders and Eastenders will make her a recognisable face to many). I found myself even more impressed with her Theatre reviews, especially as she received such fantastic ones when she stepped into the lead role in Linda just a few days before Press Night. People, as someone who has been on stage before, that is difficult. If that's not enough to convince you then this should be: she beat Benedict Cumberbatch and nabbed herself an Olivier Award. All of these things considered there should be no concerns about her acting skills.
At the end of the day, Hermione is a fictional, interpretable character. People should be making more of a fuss about the fact that Paul Thornley is certainly not ginger-haired like Ron is supposed to be, and Jamie Parker does not have Harry's (and Lily's) green eyes that the book describes (neither did Daniel Radcliffe by the way). But no one is because that would be ridiculous, just as this notion that Dumezweni's skin colour has ruined the Harry Potter franchise is. Rowling's magical books were always about embracing diversity and turning the underdogs into heroes. I am beyond excited to see these three in action and look forward to more casting announcements in the future!
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