Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
Harry Potter was never exactly my entertainment of choice, though I do still occasionally wake up from the same night-sweats brought on by Cerberus the three-headed dog that plagued the fragile seven-year-old movie patron I used to be. (Various members of Team THINX have asked that I stop here to say that Harry was, in fact, like, everyone else's entertainment of choice. They just wanted you to know. This is a me problem. It's fine.) In any case, much like most millennials, I was enraptured this past week by the news of a black Hermione casted for a future stage play in London. I’d heard from many of my die-hard Potter fan friends that in the books, Hermione’s race was always somewhat ambiguous, and that there had been a good deal of fan fiction written and newly-imagined comics drawn wherein Hermione is specifically portrayed as black. Hooray for this big win, I thought--so glad racism is done!
Halt. Not so fast.
Of course, with any kind of news like this that threatens to interrupt narcissistic, white fantasies of an all-white universe surrounded by all-white fake universes, there are bound to be naysayers; people who wonder why we can’t just “leave well-casted characters alone” or why we can’t just “look past race.” Why must we always complicate things by shaking up the races of characters? ….aaaand more whining along the same lines.
Interestingly enough, the announcement of this casting choice also comes at a convenient time--just as the center of another one of our featured news stories (as well as another wildly successful, nerdy franchise), Star Wars, is released in theaters, featuring its first-ever black storm-trooper. Both of these separate stories carry with them their charmingly fantastical, invented universes where wizards and aliens have functioning communities; where athletes ride magical broomsticks, and where space cowgirls (and boys) fly giant spaceships. Now, I know I don’t need to remind you of this, but newsflash: neither of those universes are real. They both require some flexibility of the imagination--a flexibility that millions of people are willing to engage for the sake of the art. Why isn’t that same flexibility afforded to the races of human characters? Indeed, John Boyega, the new black Star Wars star, has shared his thoughts on this particular issue, too.
In the midst of all the racist online floundering, however, the Internet delivered unto me one of the more poignant things it hath delivered in a while: a beautiful, little Twitter screen-grab, the gist of which addressed how we’re able to whitewash actual characters of historical significance (i.e. pharaohs, African queens, Jesus, etc.), and yet the race of what would otherwise be a racially ambiguous, fictional character is somehow worthy of outrage if said character were to go from white to black. The thought process here? Changing a character from dark to light is an artistic choice. Good actors of any race should be able to portray any race’s story well! Changing a character from light to dark, however, is the same as compromising the integrity of the character, and the validity of the canon. Cool, glad we’re on the same page.
If there’s one that thing that media outlets aren’t commenting on enough, though, it’s that at this moment in time--in the last couple weeks of the year 2015 (a year that has seen a disturbing increase in public racism, as well as a year that has seen spikes in “minority” populations of color in the States)--discussions like these shouldn’t have to be taking place. There shouldn’t have to be defensive posts plastered around the Internet, explaining why a black Hermione is good, trying desperately to appear optimistic for the future. There shouldn’t have to be virtual pleas for the acceptance of a black actress portraying a beloved childhood hero. That should be the norm.
No matter how many times you hear it or read it, the fact remains that it’s tremendously important for little girls, in particular, to be able to see themselves in their favorite characters. Not only does this foster self-acceptance and healthy self-image, but it leads to a life of success and heroism. Cheers to Hermiones of every shape and size and color under the sun.
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