J.K. Rowling shuts down anyone who thinks Noma Dumezweni can't play Hermione.

Those who thought Harry Potter would end after "The Deathly Hallows" have been thrilled by recent announcements from the Potterverse.

Author J.K. Rowling at the launch of the website Pottermore. Photo via AFP/Getty Images.


These developments include not only a Harry Potter theme park and the movie version of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" but also a continuation of Harry Potter's story following the boy-wizard as an all-grown-up and stressed out Ministry of Magic employee and his middle child, Albus Severus Potter, in a stage play called "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."

The latest news about the "Cursed Child" made waves over the weekend when it was announced that Hermione will be played by a black woman.

Unfortunately, some people are less than pleased about this.

Actress Noma Dumezweni is a London stage veteran who won a Laurence Olivier Award for best performance in a supporting role for 2005's "A Raisin in the Sun," and she will play Hermione opposite Jamie Parker as Harry and Paul Thornley as Ron.

Noma Dumezweni holding her Olivier Award. Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images.

The funny (sad-funny, not haha-funny) thing is though, film adaptations of stories that originally starred actors of color are routinely white-washed. Just look at "21," which was about Asian-American MIT students gaming Las Vegas casinos but was adapted to star a white actor in the main role. Or "The Last Samurai," in which Tom Cruise played a samurai.

This practice goes back to Hollywood's golden age and continues even today, with Johnny Depp playing a Native American in a "Lone Ranger" adaptation and Emma Stone being cast as a part-Asian character in "Aloha."

When characters who are meant to be black or brown are played by white actors, the defense is usually that Hollywood is a meritocracy and casting directors simply pick the best actor for the role regardless of skin color. But when an actor of color is cast in a role that many assume to be white, people are suddenly concerned about authenticity.

Even when a character in a book who is described as a person of color is played by a person of color, people are upset because they assumed the character was white (see the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in "The Hunger Games").

People criticized Amandla Stenberg's casting as Rue in "The Hunger Games" because of her race. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

In a world where characters can do magic and mail is delivered by owl or where governments force children to fight to the death each year, is it really so unbelievable and inauthentic to think that a character could be anything other than white?

When the news of Hermione's casting broke, some fans couched their displeasure as concern for J.K. Rowling, who they thought might be upset by the casting decision.

They could not have been more wrong. Rowling responded like the class act that she is:

Boom. Mic drop. Hermione's race was never stated in the books.

The Potter movies chose to portray Hermione as a white woman. Hermione appears on the cover of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" with white skin as well.


And that's fine! That's a choice the casting director for the films made. That's a choice the book artist made. Those are choices made not based on descriptions of Hermione in the text but on assumptions made in a world that assumes that, unless otherwise specified, people and characters are white.

The casting director for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" has chosen to portray Hermione as a black woman.

And both portrayals are acceptable, and J.K. Rowling approved interpretations of the character.

Though Emma Watson as Hermione in the Harry Potter movies is iconic, it's a sign of progress to have a woman of color inhabiting this role. Photo by Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images.

One of the critiques that the Potter series has faced since its release is that Rowling didn't seem to write a lot of main roles for people of color in the Harry Potter series. The only explicit diversity in the movies were in background roles, such as the Indian Patil sisters, Potter classmate Dean Thomas, Quidditch captain Angelina Johnson, and love interest Cho Chang (aka The One Before Ginny).

What we can learn from this conversation is how we all need to be more open-minded about diversity in pop culture. Perhaps this is something J.K. Rowling has realized after the fact. Perhaps this is something she wished she had made explicitly clear in the books, or perhaps she enjoys people interpreting her work in new and different ways.

It's great that such a beloved piece of pop culture is moving into the 21st century.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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