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SO DAMN EXCITED about Noma Dumezweni as Hermione. Unequivocally really, really excited. I love the racebending headcanons and fan art on tumblr and love how widespread they've become. I love and very much appreciate that the writers and producers of The Cursed Child made this chocie, and I'm very excited for Hermione as a black woman to become an official part of the wider HP verse.

I'm also glad that JK Rowling came out in support of it. I haven't gone fishing for it (value my blood pressure, thankyouverymuch) but am given to understand that there was a substantial backlash to the idea that Hermione could be black, to which JKR said:
Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione. (image under the cut) )

Which strikes me as important on a number of levels. That JKR is willing to wade into this and stand behind the choice and the actress, that she's explicitly refuting racist claims that Hermione can't be black for any number of bullshit reasons, and that she's affirming the fans who think of Hermione as black.

And I love these headcanons for a reason! They're smart and they're important and I see absolutely no reason why Hermione can't be black, and think some things about the series get way cooler if she is black.

example of awesome headcanon under the cut )

But something about JKR's response is sitting uneasily with me.

Partly it feels like shades of Dumbledore again. "Oh, did I not mention? My books were full of representation, how did you not notice that?"

Partly it bothers me for the same reasons that the post-canon Dumbledore-is-gay proclamation bothers me: because if you're going to claim to have written representative characters, and you're going to claim brownie points for representation, you need to do the work of representation.

In the same general way that Dumbledore's sexuality changes the story, I can't imagine* that Hermione's race wouldn't change the story. There are some ways - like those mentioned in the headcanon above - that would give the story more depth and significance. But even if JKR is open to Hermione being black, I don't think she intended that originally** and there are parts of the book that read differently to me, not necessarily in a good way, if she's actually intended it all along. Things like
what it means that Hermione is Muggle-born, her reaction to being called a Mudblood, what motivates her to fight Voldemort, S.P.E.W and house-elf activism, and hair-straightening at the Yule Ball. )

I'm not sure where all that leaves me. Still feeling really very excited that Noma Dumezweni will be playing Hermione Granger. Glad that people are being asked to question the assumption that the default is white. Happy that the qualities I think of as being most associated with Hermione - incredible intelligence, loyalty, conviction, skill, and moral integrity (and, for/from the audience, relatability and lovability) - are being assigned to a black character. That a black actress was picked to play a character who has all those qualities, and in a role that will almost undoubtedly be commercially successful. This is a powerful, important thing, and exactly as it should be.

But also, not believing that JKR really meant to leave Hermione's race open to interpretation. Feeling like if JKR did mean to make Hermione's race open to interpretation, she didn't really do the work of thinking through how race would have affected Hermione in important ways - like the source of her ideological convictions, her motivations for fighting, and her conception of her own desirability. And feeling like this kind of post-hoc representation doesn't work. That you can't retcon race, or sexuality, or any other number of identities, because those aren't boxes you check, they're real identities that affect the way we see and move through the world.

Maybe my tl;dr here is that while Hermione should be black, and definitely should be able to be black, Hermione wasn't meant to be black, and retroactively superimposing blackness on her character isn't as simple as waving a magic wand. (pun totally intended) Making as though representation is as simple as changing a character's skin color after the fact undermines the complexity and centrality of having a marginalized identity, and gives white audiences another reason to embrace the idea of colorblindness instead of having to examine how racial experience change one's experience of the world. At some point it becomes an act of erasure instead of representation, by reducing race to skin color (or any other number of identities to other attributes) instead of exploring the ways that living with specific identities, in a world where those identities create or limit our opportunities, changes who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I still want Noma Dumezweni to play Hermione. I still want to have a black Hermione. I want that very much. I just hope that as the team behind The Cursed Child shape the character, they consider what that means, in all its complexity.

But I don't know that I really do final thoughts on this. I am, however, very curious to hear what other people make of the casting choice. Thoughts?

footnotes: why I think Hermione was intended to be white, Are Muggle-borns a disadvantaged group?, hat-tips, the role of class, epistemic privilege, things that suck are still real )


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January 2017

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