Recent news that a black actress, Noma Dumezweni, has been cast to play the adult Hermione Granger in the forthcoming stage version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London has rekindled discussions about colour-blind casting.
There have been several comments online from people who disagree wholeheartedly with Hermione being played by a black actress.
And on the flip side, there have also been lots of people celebrating the casting – including Harry Potter creator herself, JK Rowling.
Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione 😘 https://t.co/5fKX4InjTH
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 21, 2015
Rowling never once referred to Hermione’s race in her books.
Of course, we’re used to seeing Hermione as white on film, played by Emma Watson. But when the book is not prescriptive about race, why is it so difficult for us to be fluid in the way that we imagine her?
Why do we automatically whitewash literary characters, unless it’s specified otherwise? Hermione is a young, intelligent girl and can be played by anyone. Her ethnicity has absolutely no bearing on her character and the role she plays.
Besides, there has been no shortage of fan art depicting Hermione as a black girl before now.
— Tope A. (@Nubianchocola) January 22, 2015
— Stephen (@TheAviator1992) December 22, 2015
Dumezweni was recently drafted in to play a part originally intended for Kim Catrall in a stage production of Linda at the Royal Court Theatre, proving that acting roles are fluid and not race restrictive.
Another famous example of colour-blind casting was Morgan Freeman playing Red in The Shawshank Redemption, a character who was white, Irish and red-haired in the literary version by Stephen King.
The issue resurfaced again recently when Idris Elba was connected with the James Bond role. The modern-day 007 author Anthony Horowitz made a comment suggesting that The Wire and Luther star was “too street” to play the traditionally white role. The comments were met with much controversy. (Read our take on it)
One thing to remember is that while a black Hermione might feel like a victory for colour-blind casting, it is in a theatre production. In the Harry Potter film franchise, the only non-white characters were in supporting roles.
Shakespeare plays have drawn attention for their casting of black actors in traditionally white roles. But earlier this year the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames was criticised for its adaptation of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses, which filled a cast of 22 with solely white actors.
Anyway, we’re glad to see Dumezweni playing the role. Let’s just hope that one day a black actor playing a role like this is not such a cause for debate.
— Gage Skywalker (@gagetarlton) December 21, 2015
Based on an original new story by Rowling, Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens at the Palace Theatre in London on July 30.