To J.K. Rowling, the best actress got the job. Period.
Meet Noma Dumezweni.
She’s the actress playing the part of (grown up) Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — a very highly anticipated stage production coming to London this summer.
After it was announced last year that Dumezweni had earned the role, the color of her skin (unfortunately) became a bit of a hot-button issue.
While many fans were excited about the casting choice…
Much of the outcry revolved around the notion that the books canonically describe Hermione as white and concern that Dumezweni playing her part would be disingenuous to the series and author J.K. Rowling’s intentions.
Even though J.K. Rowling chimed in herself last December to remind readers the books never specified Granger’s race…
…but even word from Hermione’s creator didn’t silence all the naysayers.
Now, with the scheduled opening right around the corner next month, the spotlight is shining even brighter on “The Cursed Child” — and, yet again, perplexingly, on Dumezweni’s skin color.
This time around, however, Rowling is taking a much more no-nonsense approach to anyone making a fuss.
In a recent interview, Rowling said the racist backlash to “The Cursed Child” was mostly due to … well, idiots.
“With my experience of social media, I thought that idiots were going to idiot,” Rowling told The Observer. “But what can you say? That’s the way the world is. Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job. When [director John Tiffany] told me he’d cast her, I said, ‘Oh, that’s fabulous,’ because I’d seen her in a workshop and she was fabulous.”
Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images.
Rowling went on to explain why those claiming Granger is definitively white, using the books as proof, have it all wrong:
“I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione ‘turned white’ – that is, lost color from her face after a shock – that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.”
Casting can be a discriminatory process. So when diversity wins out, we should recognize it.
Although one could argue theater gets diversity far more than Hollywood does (did you watch the Tony Awards this year?) the entertainment industry in general needs improving.
Big wigs in the entertainment realm are overwhelming older, white, and male, and it reflects in the stories that get produced and the talent that snags leading roles.
When movies and plays are derived from stories led by people of color, oftentimes a white person gets cast anyways (see: Emma Stone in “Aloha,” Johnny Depp in “Lone Ranger,” and countless others). And even when a character was written as a person of color, you’ll still find uproars over a producer’s decision to stay true to the original story and cast the role as such.
Some “Hunger Games” fans were up in arms over Amandla Stenberg being cast as Rue — despite the fact she was just what the author had in mind when writing the books. Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for WE Day.
The new Harry Potter stage play may have ruffled some feathers. But maybe that’s exactly what needed to happen.
Along with Rowling, director John Tiffany hopes “The Cursed Child” does its part in combating racial bias in casting, and — even more importantly — what types of people we see as worthy of the role.
“I am not as Twitter-familiar as Jo and Jack, so I hadn’t encountered its dark side, which is just awful,” he told The Observer. “But what shocked me was the way people couldn’t visualize a non-white person as the hero of a story. It’s therefore brilliant that this has happened.”
Thumbnail image by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images.