J K Rowling has joined fans in defending the casting of a black actor as Hermione Granger in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which the author has confirmed is the official eighth story in the series.
Actress Noma Dumezweni, 46, was cast alongside Jamie Parker as Harry Potter and Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley, who married Hermione at the end of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The play will show the one-time boy wizard as an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, with three school-age children.
Hermione was played in all Harry Potter movies by Emma Watson, and debate over the character’s ethnicity began soon after the stage cast was announced.
Dumezweni, who won an Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role for A Raisin in the Sun in 2006, was born in Swaziland to South African parents.
Numerous Twitter users asked why Hermione was cast as black, and some questioned the credibility of the play.
Other fans said that the play follows the books and not the movies, and that Hermione’s skin colour is never established in any of the books.
Although some Twitter users argued that the books contain references to Hermione tanning, flushing or going pale, others replied that none of those things are impossible for people with darker skin.
Some argued that it is appropriate for Hermione to be non-white. In a post on the website Quora, writer Monika Kothari argues that the Harry Potter stories are about “race and the dangerous myth of racial supremacy”.
“The distinctions between pure-blood, half-blood, and muggle-born witches and wizards are basically racial,” she writes.
“Within magical society, Hermione and several other characters belong to a maligned minority group, who face racialised hatred.”
Ms Kothari argues that although this does not mean that Hermione is non-white, it is reasonable for readers to imagine her as a person of colour.
riting for Buzzfeed, film and TV reviewer Alanna Bennett writes that she compared her own experiences as “a biracial girl” with Hermione being harassed as a mudblood.
Ms Bennett also says that the only description of Hermione she can find in the books beyond her hair and teeth is from Prisoner of Azkaban, in the line:
“They were there, both of them, sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor — Ron looking incredibly freckly, Hermione very brown, both waving frantically at him.”
Noma Dumezweni has not publicly commented on the debate, although she acknowledged the casting announcement on Twitter by saying she had “just seen my feed blow up.”
Numerous responses welcomed her to the Harry Potter world. Actress Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies, dismissed the debate entirely with the comment that when she was cast people complained about her hair, and it is people’s hearts not their looks that matter.
Late on Monday, J K Rowling took to Twitter to publicly support the casting.
The other two central characters also came in for criticism, with comments that Jamie Parker does not have green eyes and that Ron Weasley is supposed to be ginger.
In recent years there have been other controversies when a black actor was cast in a role previously seen as white.
In 2010, there was a backlash against a social media campaign attempting to get American actor Donald Glover cast as Peter Parker in the movie The Amazing Spider-Man, a role that went to Andrew Garfield.
The movie Thor was threatened with boycott in 2011 after British actor Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, the all-seeing guardian of Asgard.
Idris Elba was also at the centre of a debate about the identify of James Bond, after an internet campaign called for him to replace Daniel Craig — who was criticised for being blond when he accepted the part — as the next actor to star in the long-running movie series.
In 2015, there was an outcry when the Fantastic Four reboot cast Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm, a role previously held by Chris Evans.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open in London’s West end in 2016. It was written by playwright Jack Thorne in collaboration with JK Rowling, according to Rowling’s Pottermore website.
“While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted,” Pottermore quotes the play’s synopsis.
“As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places
The play will be performed in two parts, “due to the epic nature of the story we’ve been working on,” Rowling and Pottermore said in September.