The Harry Potter fandom has never dwindled. Sorting quizzes, movie trivia, and “where are they now” internet posts have been popular without fail since June 26, 1997, when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published. It’s been in the mainstream.
But there is a segment of the population known as Potterheads who took it just a step further. We’ve been alive and well on Tumblr, fan forums, Twitter, and Pottermore, interacting with J.K. Rowling and collectively cringing, gasping, and smiling as she continues expanding her world post-completion of the original 7 books.
There are terms Potterheads use to speak to each other when talking about Harry, the golden trio, and the wizarding world. “Canon” refers to facts that have been validated in the books, films, supporting literature (like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), on Pottermore, and in interviews and other media from J.K. Rowling. “Headcanon” refers to a thought or theory that a Potterhead or group of Potterheads cling to, because the canon may not explicitly say the fact is true, but there is implicit supporting evidence that comes together to create a popular ‘truth.’
One of the most pervasive headcanons over the past 18 years (has it really been 18 years?) is that Hermione Granger is, indeed, a black character. Her race is never explicitly stated in the original books.
Muggleborns and Purebloods
Granger is introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a muggleborn witch, a lineage which means that the culture she grew up in is inherently different, though no less, than the reigning culture of the wizarding world, “purebloods.” This can be read as a direct parallel to the black experience in worlds that are whitewashed. Hermione can and does exist within the realm of the purebloods, in a realm tailored for folks from a wizard-centric society, but does so with the supplemental schema of the other, of a culture that gives her a different perspective. And she is often discriminated against for it.
Physically, Hermione is introduced in Sorcerer’s Stone as having, “a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.” That’s it. That’s all the description we get. Emma Watson did a fabulous job of giving audiences a Hermione to be proud of that more or less fit the description, but Potterheads were torn. Quite a few of us read that line and saw natural hair. This was solidified when Hermione attends the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and is revealed to look like a completely different person after using Sleakeasy’s Hair Potion and Scalp Treatment. This directly mirrors the tension around black hair and the controversy around the implications of wearing hair in different ways and what that means for identity.
Hermione is ostracised too for her “bossy sort of voice.” When women of color speak up, speak out, they are viewed as aggressive, rarely assertive. Recent studies have suggested that while it is a positive thing for white women to speak up in a business setting, there are ways for white women to be taken seriously and move up the ladder in a workplace. On the other hand, women of color will, by and large, be labelled as aggressive no matter what they do to voice an opinion. We see this in Hermione’s character all the way through the series, with even her “friends” constantly reminding her of her know-it-all character.
The House Elf in the Room
And then there’s SPEW (The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). Hermione starts SPEW after she witnesses the hatred and dispicable work conditions house elves undergo in the wizarding world. Potterheads have used this as another possible example of Hermione as a POC. She may have directly identified with the disgusting treatment of house elves to the treatment of her ancestors. Of her family.
And so, Potterheads everywhere are celebrating. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth installment of the series and a stage play premiering in London on July 30, 2016, will see Hermione Granger the grownup played by Noma Dumezweni. She is a 45 year old actress from Swaziland who has won the Laurence Olivier award. Dumezweni has featured in over 12 London-based shows and relocated to England from South Africa as a child. Adult Harry and adult Ron will be played by Jamie Parker and Paul Thornley, respectively.
And we, as a fandom, can’t wait to see our girl the way we’ve been picturing her for eighteen years.