Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Why Can't Hermione be Black?


So you all know what a huge Harry Potter fan I am, and I mentioned a few weeks ago that I nabbed really great tickets for Harry Potter & the Cursed Child next year (so freaking excited!!!), a theatre spin-off from the Harry Potter series several years later.

A few days ago, it was announced who the main cast would be, and to my utter delight, an older Hermione is being played by Noma Dumezweni - a black woman, awesome!! And what's fantastic is how this was Rowling's 1st choice (though obviously she doesn't cast productions *awkward cough*). Twitter was rampant with glee! I saw messages from people who were so happy that diversity was being promoted by a much-loved author. From people who had grown up with these books and were so glad that they were being represented in something they'd always loved.

And then there are the others.

The ones who said Hermione was "obviously white" even though her race was never specified in the books. That it wasn't "cannon". Even some idiots who had the nerve to say that it "wasn't right" (!).

Well here's my question: Why the hell can't Hermione be black? Why have we accepted that the acting industry must remain as being a white-washed one, where even the thought of a black or other person who isn't Caucasian raising eyebrows? Why must it raise eyebrows? Why have we accepted that an all-white cast is "they way things should be?"

I even saw someone on twitter (a white man) saying under the Hermione hashtag that they'd be playing Martin Luther King in a theatre production. Obviously a joke, but to get to the heart of this - why has it become a joke? What makes it so laughable that a black person is playing someone who people "believed" to have always been white, and not accept an alternative? That message just highlighted how easily it is for people who've lived with this privilege, of not being questioned and judged, to not realise their advantage. And quite frankly that ignorance pisses me off.

As a kid I never noticed this kind of thing - whether there were no black people or that there were only white people in Hollywood hits. But as you grow up, one thing you notice is how "different" you are to others, and the toll that it takes. I saw that difference being shown on tv, in cinemas, in books. And it began to annoy me that it seems such a grand thing that a strong, clever, independent woman is being played by a black person. Why does this have to be an issue? The power of an actress is in their ability to portray a character that is true to form, not to fit a Eurocentric profile of what the actor should look like.

Why does that matter if can portray their character well?

I'm proud that an author I love dearly has addressed this criticism head-on, and it makes me appreciate her even more. But it's something that's been ingrained into society in a way I fear cannot easily be removed. Let's be honest. It is "normal" to have an all-white cast. It is "normal" to imagine characters in books, whose races aren't specified, as "obviously white". And worse, normal to question the talents of an amazing actress, just because she has more melanin in her skin than others would prefer.

Share your thoughts down below,

Zahra D x


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