The Harry Potter universe has magic carpets, flying broomsticks, dragons, and owl post in it. Every year, eleven year-olds across the world still secretly hope for a letter to Hogwarts. Yet, it seems like the casting of Norma Dumezweni, a black woman, as Hermione in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, which is being produced by Palace Theatre Productions in London, is unbelievable for some fans.
The announcement that Norma Dumezweni would play the adult Hermione received mostly positive reactions. However, the Internet is nothing but a digital representation of the human race as it stands, with its melting pot of opinions, and certain fans have expressed their disappointment at the casting. JK Rowling has given her stamp of approval to Norma playing Hermione. She said on Twitter that the canon description of Hermione included frizzy hair, brown eyes and that she was very clever. White skin was never specified. If that is not the ultimate answer to all doubts, the casting has received further authority from Emma Watson, who asserted on Twitter that she was very excited to watch Norma as Hermione.
The opposition to the casting based on the skin colour of the actress is wholly ridiculous. Iconic characters are played by actors from a multitude of ethnicities, in adaptations throughout time. Presentations of Othello and Hamlet have featured actors of various backgrounds, and this did not make their performance any less substantial, but in fact, added gravity to them.
But what is saddest about the reaction is that the Harry Potter series is an allegory about prejudice and bigotry in the real world. The ostracizing and later torturing of Muggle-borns can be seen as a very relevant representation of the belief that certain people are superior to others, based on factors that are not in their control. After all, no wizard decided whether they were born in a wizarding household or in a Muggle one, just as no one can decide the colour of their skin.
And the Harry Potter series show the effects of such thinking, and how they can be manipulated by despots to wreak havoc. At heart, the books are about loyalty, friendship and love. But they also illustrate for their young readers the problems of bigotry, the stamping out a whole race of people, and a world in which the government is weak and corrupt. Hermione faces several slurs, because of her parentage. The word “Mudblood” is etched forever into her skin, and she has to work doubly hard to prove herself. The quasi-fascism that is shown in the books is deliberate : there is a reason for Dumbledore defeating the purist Grindelwald in 1945, the year of Hitler’s downfall.
Fans who oppose a black woman playing Hermione seem to have not understood the basic lesson in the books, and twisted the social activism that Hermione stood for using the teachings of a Voldemort.
Photo Credit: Flickr (Tom Blunt)