Alright gang. It’s time to play dumb for a few moments while we work through this. Because I’m sure many of us have seen the post from JK Rowling herself saying that Hermione Granger’s race was unspecified. She was written in the stories with wild, curly hair, which doesn’t necessarily mean that she was “supposed” to be black, but there is some wiggle room for a non-white Heromione Granger in that brief description.
We’re not going to talk about how describing black people’s hair as wild is a problem in itself, a descriptor that has many people jumping on the wagon to support black Hermione, but even still, how did we end up with Emma Watson? The whitest of the whitest whites?
Harry Potter Hits the Stage
I think it's important to start closer to the present, from the end of the 7 book series, rather than from the beginning. When we got our black Hermione Granger for a stage production of Harry Potter, people went wild. All over the internet, people were saying that Hermione Granger is supposed to be white. But even in the movies, she's not quite the person she is in the books, action-wise. Sure, she's still smart, but there are things that happen in the movies that don't line up the way they were originally written by J.K. Rowling. Some people complained. Some people did not. People are allowed to like different things. The same as a character is allowed to change as long as that change stays true to who she is.
On top of that, there has been a long history of white-washing characters who were obviously supposed to be black or people of color given the setting and time period of many films and TV shows...yet, racists had naught to say about any of that. Black Hermione is hardly the first example of racists crying foul about their beloved characters getting "black-washed", which, by the way, is not a real thing. These complaints completely ignore (nor do they often care) about the reality that there has been so very little representation of black or people of color in mainstream films.
Being white has nothing to do with Hermione Granger's personality.
There is nothing of cultural significance attached to whiteness that was present in any of the Harry Potter books or films. Yet, when the news dropped that the Harry Potter stage production would have a black actress playing Hermione Granger, people revolted. The same reaction happened for the movie adaptation of The Cursed Child. Why? What was so important about her white skin that having a darker skinned person playing that role would've changed who she was? Have not many roles set in Africa not been played by white people which completely changes the context and cultural significance of those stories, as there is a deep and complex history attached to Africa and its people that does not translate when brought to the screen by a white face.
But... she's supposed to have wIlD cUrLy hAiR
They say it isn't racism, but what other reason could there possibly be for having such a strong reaction to having a black girl play such a popular character where even the author of the 7 book series said herself that she loves black Hermione? Is the author's support not enough for these naysayers?
I never expected this obsession with white washing to contaminate one of my favorite book series. In these arguments people say there is not a "need" to make Hermione black, as if there always has to be some sort of purpose for having a person of color onscreen, i.e. whenever a movie or TV series is about terrorism, Middle Eastern characters miraculously appear. They make it sound as if black people are being forced upon them. Is there no place for black people in a world that is actually filled with color? Should the media not reflect reality even in the midst of a complex fantasy film?
What about those random colored people in the Harry Potter movies?!
You mean, that one Asian girl that Harry sort of has a crush on, the Patel twins that have no importance in the story, or Dean Thomas and other minor roles that include characters easily forgotten, rarely seen, or background characters? If you don't see the issue with any of that, then the issue is obviously you. The whitewashing of characters is a pervasive problem that denies people of color the opportunity to see positive examples of themselves on TV and in movies. White people have received plenty of representation since movies came into existence. In fact, there are so many fewer movie dedicated solely to showcasing people of color that movies that do feature black people or people of color, go into their own categories so that they can be found.
Do we not deserve intelligent, over-achieving, black witches or stories about Middle Eastern people doing something beautiful and fantastical where they are not forced into roles as terrorists? I think all people of color deserve that.