Harry Potter Matters

So by now you know that Hermione Granger is Black. You may even be getting tired of the think pieces and opinions on the subject, but you know what? Thursday is my day to post so DEAL WITH IT. 

I was so emotional when the news came out but what was even more shocking is how strong those emotions were and how long they have lasted. I am a thirty-year-old misanthrope; things don’t usually make me happy and if they do they don’t make me happy for long – inevitably I remember how terrible people are and all of that happiness disappears. However, I find myself four days after the news still basking in the glow of Noma Dumezweni’s casting. I also find myself pleasantly surprised that it means so much to me, even after all of this time.

I, obviously, have a love and connection to Harry Potter unsurpassed by anything except maybe my family, maybe. I care deeply about the series and it still plays a major role in my life. Considering this blog and our podcast, Harry Potter is a major part of my daily life. Even still, I think at some point I came to the conclusion that while the series has shaped who I am, that work is done now and its influence on me is strongly rooted in the past. With this news, I just realized how truly wrong I was about that. 

I grew up with this series and it has had a profound influence on my personality and beliefs. Hermione Granger has had a strong influence on those beliefs as well. From the first time she was called a Mudblood in Chamber of Secrets, I felt a kinship to her story that has lasted decades. Hermione was an outsider and despite her background and the treatment she received, she excelled. She believed in herself and her friends and that was enough. She also had bushy hair and large teeth which helped me identify with her (especially in those tough years with braces). But that was years ago, I’ve made peace with my identity and after studying film and working in Hollywood immediately after college, casting choices tend not to faze me much. I understand the economics and cynical business decisions behind the casting of most major productions and though I disagree with them and believe they’re damaging, I’m usually thinking of the damage done to young girls and POC in their formative years rather than of myself now.

So why then, did this casting bring out so many emotions in me? I’d love to say that it’s the 12-year-old bookish girl in me feeling excited and vindicated by one of her favorite characters being portrayed as a Black woman. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t think that’s true. I have to admit that the adult in me is every bit as excited and moved by this news as my inner child. For the first time, I can feel the wall of cynicism being broken down and replaced by hope. Change comes slowly, gradually, but it comes. It may have taken the 2,500-year history of theater and 130-year history of film, but it feels as though we are entering a new era. An era where creators are beginning to acknowledge that representation matters. A time where producers are seeing the impact of setting up this “whiteness as default” and turning away from that. Making decisions based not only on who the best person is for the role but also maybe we are entering a time where these choices are intentional. They’re meant for the young girls of color like me to see themselves in heroic characters.

I am who I am, an adult, not easily influenced, but this decision has proven to me that I am still capable of being surprised and moved. How fitting that it is Harry Potter that is surprising and moving me? I hope that future epic stories can feature characters that are explicitly of color and heroic and everything that Hermione is. I also hope that future adaptations will continue to feature diverse casts. The importance of seeing ourselves reflected on screen is immeasurable, not only do we need to see ourselves but others need to see us as well and not as the caricature of the “Black person” but as different, unique and individual. Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger is just one step in this process, one very important step. That is why, at 30, I am just as excited for this news as I would have been at 12.

Hermione is Black, and it matters. Representation matters. Harry Potter matters.