Last night’s casting announcement that the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would feature a black actress playing Hermione has sent a shock wave throughout the Harry Potter fandom that’s still reverberating. The fan excitement was further amplified when J.K. Rowling tweeted her enthusiastic support of the casting:
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
To many fans, this was particularly welcome news, thanks to the large subset of the fandom who’ve always believed that Hermione was black.
Yes! But also: black Hermione was always canon. https://t.co/89vS9IzgnI— The Harry Potter Alliance (@TheHPAlliance) December 21, 2015
The idea that Hermione is a black character has been around almost as long as the books, as have arguments about it. In the Harry Potter books, there are three big hints at her ethnicity which proponents of the “Hermione=black” theory have been pointing to for years.
The first hint is her “frizzy” hair, a term that can easily be read as a literary stand-in for kinky hair. This hint was so convincing that in the early years of the fandom, before the movie was cast, it wasn’t uncommon to see Hermione being drawn and written about as a person of color. The movie casting came as a shock to many fans:
Another equally persuasive argument in the books was that at one point Rowling describes her skin as “looking very brown.” To real-life brown and black girls, this description was tacit permission to insert themselves into her powerful narrative. The final hint was a weighty allegorical one: Hermione’s role in the narrative involved making her the frequent target of slurs because of her status as a Muggle-born witch.
Um I think half the plot of "Harry Potter" was bigots calling Hermione Granger racial slurs so probably casting a woman of color is fine.— Sady Doyle (@sadydoyle) December 21, 2015
Even after the movie cast Emma Watson in the role, disbelief that she was meant to be white persisted in the fandom. In 2013, Alexandrina at Blackgirldangerous described her reaction to the vagueness of the text:
Hermione Granger wasn’t described by her race or skin color either, but only as having bushy brown hair. As a mixed race person, I read into Hermione’s unwritten silences and declared her a mixed race girl too. After all, name me a mixed girl whose multiracial identity isn’t manifested in her hair sometimes.
“This is my headcanon Hermione!” wrote Tumblr user pissed-offpansexual last year, drawing a version of the character with kinky hair. “When I read the description in the books, I couldn’t believe they had cast a little white girl, because in my head this is what Hermione would look like.”
The popularity of positive racebending in fandom, particularly on Tumblr has gone a long way to renew and re-promote the “black Hermione” theory:
Fanartist Marianne Khalil, whose fanart of Black Hermione became very popular on Tumblr over the last year, told the Daily Dot that she was overjoyed at the news about the casting of Olivier-winning actress Noma Dumezweni to play Hermione:
It was really wonderful news to hear Dumezweni was cast as Hermione and that Rowling wholeheartedly supported the decision. What’s most amazing to me is the palpable influence of the fandom in this. I don’t think this could have happened if they hadn’t been so vocal.
Now, fans can reap the rewards of their dedication to a theory that is now getting some popular recognition.
Illustration by Marianne Khalil/Carbonmade