0

Background: A sequel of the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) is due to arrive in London as a theatre play in about May 2016. Some people are unhappy because Hermione Granger is going to be played by a black actress, Noma Dumezweni. According to JK Rowling, "White skin was never specified".

But my question is: Would a 30-year-old Hermione Granger, with a lot more experience than the teenager that we read about, and possibly more power, be able to permanently change her skin colour if she wished to do so? ("permanently" meaning that any effort keeping up the changed appearance would affect her daily life very little).

  • 9
    She's not a Metamorphmagus. – Rand al'Thor Dec 27 '15 at 22:34
  • 6
    Should we be asking the same question about Lavender Brown, who was played by two different black actresses in the films before being replaced by a white actress just in time to be a romantic interest for Ron? – dunraven Dec 28 '15 at 15:56
  • 2
    @dunraven Really? I never even noticed her in the films before HBP. One of my many gripes about the films is that they seemed to bring in lots of characters very suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, as soon as they had a major role to play, whereas in the books they'd been a familiar background figure all the way through. – Rand al'Thor Dec 30 '15 at 12:16
  • 3
    Well, Jesus changed his skin color to white and he's not even a wizard! :P – zipquincy Dec 30 '15 at 16:01
25

Casting v. Canon

rand al'thor shows that Hermione could alter her complexion and there are dozens of spells that can transform wizards into other shapes, colors, animals, and people. Victor Krum turns into half a shark. Barty Crouch Jr. spends a year as Mad-Eye Moody. Peter Pettigrew lives for decades as a rat. The magic surely exists for "Emma Watson" to spend the duration of "The Cursed Child" looking like "Noma Dumezweni" but it isn't productive to try to incorporate recasting into canon.

Lavender Brown was played by two different black actors and one white actor.

Lavenders

If changing your appearance to another race requires "stronger," "more experienced" magic as the question suggests, why is a not-very-clever, 12-year-old Lavender so good at it?

Dumbledore was played by two different white actors.

Dumbledores

We aren't having a discussion about when and why Dumbledore changed his face, or if it's possible he's a Time Lord. This conversation only arises when it's about race.

We're used to holding separate canons in our heads across media (books to film) but here's something that happened within the movie universe that is not getting the same attention. Maybe because the character was white by the time she got a speaking role?

As a person who works in professional theater, I can tell you that plays are different than books and films in that they are written to be performed many times by different casts on different sets and with different directorial visions. Generally in theater, "canon" is the text of the play, not the choices of the production.

JK Rowling (who also contributed to the films) collaborated on the script for the play with Jack Thorne (who is listed as the playwright, based on a "story by JK Rowling") and Rowling has tweeted that the "story" of Cursed Child is canon.

RowlingTweet

However involved and supportive Rowling is, the specific production will be created by many artists, much like the films were. Rowling has been enthusiastic and supportive of many official, derivative works by other artists (including the films, book artwork, etc.) without suggesting that they alter her canon, and that is a good way to understand the gap between the fact of the story of The Cursed Child and the details of any given production of The Cursed Child.

Another theater example: Casting people of color in Hamilton doesn't change the fact that the founding fathers were white, but if does something more nuanced and important.

This is mostly just to say that the tunnel vision of "canon" can be unhelpful to understanding a work of fiction, especially when it works to exclude the same non-white, non-cis, non-male people that science fiction and fantasy has a problematic history of excluding.

  • The script was not solely from Rowling. – ibid Dec 30 '15 at 8:21
  • @ibid Thanks! I've edited to reflect that Rowling isn't the playwright, and added her word on which parts of the joint endeavor to consider canon. – dunraven Dec 30 '15 at 14:25
  • 1
    Seems too trivial to work into the answer, but the films rarely adhere to characters' stated eye color, for example, and other physical markers listed in the books. If JK doesn't think a non-white Hermione changes the core of the character, it's not that much different (though more politically and culturally charged) than her allowing the casting of Daniel Radcliffe, whose eyes aren't "as green as a fresh pickled toad." – dunraven Dec 30 '15 at 16:08
  • 2
    +1 for We aren't having a discussion about when and why Dumbledore changed his face – Kalissar Dec 30 '15 at 17:11
  • 1
    I have always preferred Dumbledore #1. – No Grabbing Dec 31 '15 at 14:05
18

Well, there is a Colour-Changing Charm, probably taught in 5th-year Hogwarts Charms class, which we know applies to animals, so it may apply to humans too:

On the whole, Harry thought it went rather well. His Levitation Charm was certainly much better than Malfoy’s had been, though he wished he had not mixed up the incantations for Colour Change and Growth Charms, so that the rat he was supposed to be turning orange swelled shockingly and was the size of a badger before Harry could rectify his mistake.

-- HP and the Order of the Phoenix (emphasis mine)

So it's quite plausible that Hermione would be able to cast such a charm on herself, in effect 'dyeing' her own skin. However, you're missing a more important point:

the difference between what we call 'black' and 'white' people is more than just skin colour.

If you performed magic on an ordinary pale-skinned person so that their skin instantly changed colour to black, they wouldn't look identical to a naturally black-skinned person. There are more subtle differences in physical appearance than just skin colour. I promise you, if you took a photograph of Emma Watson and changed the colour of her skin from light to dark, she still wouldn't look like Noma Dumezweni!

(Side note: why are people getting so worked up about this? I'm sure ND will do at least as good a job of portraying Hermione as EW did. Hermione's personality could fit equally well with a person of any colour skin.)

  • 3
    I can't believe you didn't mention the charm known to Ron which he tried to use on a Rat in the very first Hogwarts Express trip – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 28 '15 at 3:54
  • 1
    @DVK I didn't mention it because it didn't seem to be a real spell :-) – Rand al'Thor Dec 28 '15 at 11:38
  • 2
    who says so????? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 28 '15 at 12:15
  • 1
    Humans dislike change; it's uncomfortable. We associate Hermione with Emma Watson; since EW was the first to portray Hermione an actress of another colour is going to cause disconcerting feelings. I have nothing against people of colour and I've known plenty wonderful people of colour; but it does feel weird to me to have a 'black' Hermione. But I don't care in the end (even if I was going to see the play); it's not a big deal. It's different but notwithstanding racists (and I'm sure this is the case for many, sadly and ironically, since Rowling hates racism/bigotry) that's all there is to it. – Pryftan Jul 19 '17 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Pryftan "We associate Hermione with Emma Watson" - speak for yourself :-) Personally I think Hermione was badly cast in the films, although not as much so as Ginny. – Rand al'Thor Jul 19 '17 at 22:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.