In the 18 years since the first “Harry Potter” book was released, the series has produced a countless number of fans of the book’s intricate magical world, the four distinct houses of Hogwarts castle and the action-packed journey of Harry Potter himself. The wildly popular book series quickly inspired an equally successful movie series, but fans prepared to officially say goodbye to the new installments of “Harry Potter” when the credits rolled on the last film.
The online fan base of the “Harry Potter” series again became abuzz with excitement, however, when it was announced on Oct. 23 that a new play titled “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” will open in London in the summer of 2016, beginning where the seventh book left off, according to jkrowling.com. The play deviated from the adaptation decisions of the movie series when black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast to play Hermione, Harry’s best friend. Hermione was played by white actress Emma Watson in the movie series.
J.K. Rowling, the series’ author, was quick to confirm her support of the casting decision by posting on Twitter, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione,” explaining that she never explicitly stated the race of Hermione’s race.
“I would argue that this isn’t really color-blind casting,” DePaul media and cinema studies professor Kelly Kessler said. “This decision, some would argue, is actually more in line with the Potter text itself. What it really did was contradict the general assumption that if it’s not overtly stated that a person in a text is African-American, Native-American, et cetera, that he or she must be white.”
Junior Samantha Moreland agrees with Kessler that the movie’s casting decisions betrayed the nuances of the text by sticking to the status quo of casting predominantly white actors.
“I just thought it was interesting that in a series where racial issues and class difference is a major theme, there was an extreme lack of diversity in the Hollywood adaptations of (the book series),” Moreland said. “The director’s choice in making Hermione a woman of color seems like it’s correcting what was looked past before.”
Valerie Johnson, the department chair of political science, makes the point that when race is not specified in a film and a white actor is chosen, it is assumed as the logical decision and their race is not seen as a deciding factor.
“White people have a tendency to think of, ‘Well damn, (black people) always have to push for representation,’ when, again, if it’s like we’re normalizing whiteness, it’s not about race,” Johnson said.
Similar movie adaptations of book series in the recent past have also chosen to normalize whiteness in the unspecified race of book characters. According to the Huffington Post, Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” trilogy, for example, was only specified as having olive skin, dark hair and gray eyes, which leaves her race very open to interpretation. However, Jennifer Lawrence, a white acress, was chosen to play Katniss in the movie series.
Although the history of movie adaptations of books shows a trend of whitewashing, or normalizing white actors as Johnson said, the question remains of what effect this casting decision will have on future productions. While Kessler is doubtful of a significant impact because of the limited number of people who will see the stage production, Moreland is very excited about the casting decision and believes its impact will set a precedent.
“I’m very interested in this because this casting choice changes nothing about the character, only her skin tone,” Moreland said. “But the impact it has on the audience changes because of her skin tone.”