When I was nine I went to one of Jacqueline Wilson’s book signings. Like JK Rowling, Wilson was the shit for nine year old girls in the noughties, trust. But, being the strange child I was, I had a question for her which I don’t think she was quite prepared for.
“Why are there no protagonists who are brown in your books?” I asked, or words to that effect. This woman had written novel after novel, all featuring white girls. From Tracy Beaker to Dixie Diamond, I couldn’t find any descriptions of girls like me.
Wilson was surprisingly brusque.
“There’s an Asian girl in Lola Rose who’s the protagonist’s best friend,” she told me while briskly signing my books. Security signalled for me to move on before I could follow up my question.
Up until now, the Harry Potter series, which I was obsessed with growing up, had always been similarly lacking in diversity. I remember being in a bookshop and coming across a open casting leaflet for the upcoming film series.
“We’re looking for a black boy of x height, with dreadlocks,” one of the descriptions read. It was for the only character I vaguely resembled at the time, Lee Jordan.
But, it was revealed today that the adult Hermione Granger will be played by Swaziland-born actress Noma Dumezweni in the stage sequel to the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Dumezweni is, of course, black – and as Rowling reminded her fans on Twitter, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione”.
Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione ? https://t.co/5fKX4InjTH
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 21, 2015
Rowling seems to have been making a point of acknowledging racial issues recently, throwing her weight behind a crowdfunded anthology of essays on race and immigration earlier in December.
While the gestures of solidarity are welcome, I do wonder if “black Hermione” is perhaps slightly tokenistic (though it’s unclear if Rowling had any hand in the casting).
Nevertheless, gal-dem have been highlighting the lack of literature featuring black children, and even though I’m not sure if Harry Potter would quite make it onto that list as of yet, it’s so refreshing to see such a positive twist in the literature of my childhood.
46-year-old Dumewezni is also an Olivier Award winning actress and is sure to do the part of Hermione justice. Sadly I missed out on the opportunity to buy tickets but, as put by one Twitter user:
me: nah i’m not gonna see the cursed child cursed child: *casts a black actress as hermione* me: guess i’m moving to london — publius. (@dissolvoray) December 20, 2015