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Cultural diversity comes to Hogwarts

13 January 20160 comments

In a new Harry Potter play, the much-loved Hermione Granger character will be played by a Swaziland-born actress, a role previously played by a white actress.

The forthcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, will star 46 year old Noma Dumezweni as an adult Hermione, alongside Jamie Parker as the middle-aged Harry Potter and Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley.

Swaziland-born actress Noma Dumezweni plays Hermione Grainger in a new play

Swaziland-born actress Noma Dumezweni plays Hermione Grainger in a new play

Dumezweni is currently starring in Linda at the Royal Court Theatre, and will commence her role as Hermione when the new play opens in July of this year.

The critically acclaimed actress has been inundated with praise and excitement for her new role from Harry Potter fans as well as its creator.

Fans of the series commented on Dumezweni’s Twitter with kind words such as ‘Welcome to the wizarding world!’, ‘welcome 2 the hp fandom ma’am’ and ‘this will be your life now. Welcome to the Potter fandom. We may be over-emotional but we’re always friendly’.

Throughout the six Warner Bros film adaptions of the novels by J.K. Rowling, Hermione was played by the Caucasian actress Emma Watson.

However, throughout the novels no mention of race was given to Hermione’s character, the only description given by Rowling being that Hermione had ‘bushy brown hair and brown eyes’, and large front teeth.

Though the casting of the character as white for the movies likely made fans of the films envision Hermione as only being one possible ethnicity.

While many may find it difficult to deviate from the original image of Hermione created through the films, ethnically diverse actors playing roles originally envisioned as white is more common than you might think.

One of the most widely acclaimed of these is Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of Nick Fury in the Avengers franchise, contrary to Nick consistently being depicted as white throughout the Marvel comics.

In recent years many traditionally white Marvel comic characters have been cast as black for film, such as Clarke Duncan’s role as Daredevil’s rival Kingpin and Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Norse mythological tale Thor.

Many film remakes have also enlisted this casting the technique over the last decade.

In the 1962 film adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate, a popular thriller novel, Italian-American musician Frank Sinatra plays the lead character of Marco, where as in the 2004 remake Denzel Washington was cast as Marco.

The horror fiction novel I Am Legend inspired the 1971 film The Omega Man which starred Charlton Heston as the lead character, and was later remade with the novel’s title with Will Smith taking the lead role.

A lesser known casting change is Morgan Freeman’s role as ‘Red’ in The Shawshank Redemption, with Red having originally being written as a redheaded Irish man in Stephen King’s novel by the same name.

What all of these films have in common, besides or perhaps with some credit to their casting choices, is the huge success they received either at the box office or through critical acclaim.

The list of culturally diverse actors being cast in originally white roles, though dwarfed in comparison to the reverse, continues to grow longer as films are made in recent years.

Some argue that these casting decisions are based on ‘colour-blind casting’, which is the practice of casting a role without considering the actor’s ethnicity.

Others believe the casting reasons are far more deliberate, aiming to ensure representation and meaningful inclusion of diverse communities within Hollywood’s storytelling landscape.


Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer