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21 December 2015

Of course Hermione Granger is black – she always has been

Growing up, I never thought that Hermione could be any colour other than black.

By Stephen Bush

Of course Hermione Granger’s black.

Forget being surprised that Noma Dumezweni, who will play Granger in the forthcoming play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is black – I still haven’t got over the fact that Emma Watson, who played Granger in the films, is white.

Granger – unlike Harry Potter himself, or Ron Weasley, his best friend and Granger’s love interest  – is never given a skin colour in the books: she has brown eyes, frizzy hair and I, at least, always imagined her as black, partly because, when she wows her fellow pupils at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, she straightens her hair, which was, almost without exception, how in my part of East London, everyone’s older sister prepared for a night out.

So I was horrified a year later when Watson – exceptionally white, no frizzy hair, and without Granger’s prominent teeth – was cast in the role. How could Hermione be white?

But I think my horror wasn’t because I’d paid closer attention to what the characters looked like than the casting director of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, although I undoubtedly had, or because I felt a black female character had been erased from the story.

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I think it was far more egotistical than that. As a child, I had brown eyes, frizzy hair, an overbite large enough for smaller children to shelter under during periods of heavy rain, was brighter than most of my classmates and was often obnoxious with it. I thought Hermione was black because she was the character I most closely identified with – I didn’t identify with her because I thought she was black.

My suspicion is that while among most Harry Potter readers there are plenty of people who identify with Harry, some with Ron, others with Fred and/or George, most of the diehard fans see themselves as a Hermione-type (this is why, although Harry Potter fans might worry about the longterm stability of the Harry/Ginny marriage, it doesn’t arouse strong feelings in the manner that the question of whether Hermionie should settle down with Harry, Ron, Draco, Snape, or if she should just go it alone and become Minister for Magic, already).

So my instinct is that – while some of the caterwauling about political correctness gone mad, and tokenism is undoubtedly racist – some of the surprise is that same sense of an unexpected difference between the series’ fans, and the character they see as closest to them.   

Now listen to the NS team discuss the Harry Potter series in our Harry Potter special.