Being Hermione

You know, the greatest thing about having your own blog is that you can totally ignore everyone’s advice about finding a niche and just write whatever you want. This blog is a lot of things to me. Sometimes it’s a megaphone, sometimes it’s a therapy group, sometimes it’s a mirror. Sometimes, it’s just somewhere to work through my ideas, to practice my writing, to say something that I think needs to be said.

So today, I’m going to talk about Harry Potter. And you can all deal with it. I love the Harry Potter books in a way that is very specific to my generation, I think. We grew up along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. People in my town wore tape around their glasses for a while. I sobbed when a friend cracked the spine of my first edition Goblet of Fire. We queued at midnight book releases. A year ago, I applied for the dream job at Pottermore (whoever got it – you have my eternal envy). My dad read the Philosopher’s Stone to me. I slept with my bedroom light on all through Chamber of Secrets. In Prisoner of Azkaban, I had an imaginary hippogriff. I stayed up all night to read Goblet of Fire. I got sunstroke reading Order of the Phoenix. I kept the faith through the Half Blood Prince. I cried and cried and cried at the Deathly Hallows.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

So, I might not be JK Rowling, but I consider myself quite the Harry Potter buff. And amidst all the debate about it, if you were to ask me who the real Hermione Granger is, I could tell you without a moment’s pause.

It’s me.

See? Hermione.

See? Hermione.

The bushy haired bookworm with too much to say. Who cried when people didn’t understand her, but never stopped being fiercely herself. Every time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I felt Hermione taking my hand. It’s okay, she’d whisper, we’re the good guys.

When the films came out, I was, of course, devastated that JK Rowling didn’t show up at my door and cry “Fiona! Where have you been! We’ve been searching for Hermione and I just knew we hadn’t found her because you weren’t there!”

That said, once I got over that devastating blow, my heart soared watching Emma Watson as Hermione. Sure, she was prettier than me and her hair was more manageable than mine, but I still saw myself in her every step of the way. I cheered when she punched Malfoy. I bawled when she descended the steps of the Yule Ball. I cheered when she hit Harry with a book that one time. I bawled when her and Ron shared their first kiss. Even now, show me a gif of Emma Watson crying and I’ll tear up. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is me.

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Now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has opened at the Palace Theatre in London, conversations about the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a black woman, as Hermione have flared up again. While I suspect that a whole lot of people are using this as a very thin veil for their racism, the justification seems to be that Noma Dumezweni just isn’t what Hermione looks like. And you know what? She’s not what my Hermione looked like. But for millions of other young girls, millions of young black Harry Potter fans, she’s exactly what Hermione looked like. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is them.

If you can’t see the beauty in a whole new subsection of women having their vision of Hermione recognised and validated, you don’t understand Hermione at all. Hermione is for every little girl who has ever felt odd or out of place or wrong. Hermione is a woman. She’s outspoken, seen as mouthy, even – although I’d be willing to stake my life on Harry having more lines. She’s muggle born, a “mudblood”. She weathers criticism and discrimination on all these fronts, and adding racism to the mix puts in new layers to the discrimination she faces. And this is something that black girls will recognise and experience. Hermione exists to say it’s okay to be smart, it’s okay to be mouthy, it’s okay to be black. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be you.

Hermione is Emma Watson. Hermione is Noma Dumezweni. She’s probably JK Rowling too. She’s me. She might even be you. And if you don’t understand that, if you don’t wholeheartedly celebrate that, then you don’t understand the first thing about her.

25 thoughts on “Being Hermione

  1. shona turnbull says:

    Have seen all the comments and I suppose everybody has got their opinion. Some may use as a veiled attempt to vent their own feelings but we can’t all agree or it would be boring and the amount of exposure it is getting would not have resulted in the price that is being charged online for tickets. I was astonished that some tickets are only for part1/2 of the play. Prices are very steep, I realise how popular Harry Potter things are but I could have a holiday in Florida to go to the new theme area for the price of a ticket, that is the whole performance.

    • grimorde says:

      Tickets actually start from £15. Unfortunately, as with anything this popular, tickets have been bulk bought and then re-sold at extortionate prices.

      You can’t really blame that behaviour on the casting choices – you get the same thing happening for concerts by ‘popular’ artists.

  2. Rozenn says:

    Couldn’t have explain it better myself, you’re totally right! Not being able to be Hermione because you are a black women is riddiculous! If I had to be a Harry Potter character I’d be Harry even though I’m a girl, what’s wrong with that? Nothing. So why would it be bad being Hermione because you’re black?

    Thanks for writting this blog, seriously

    • fionalongmuir says:

      Yes! Thank you so much for reading! Oh, I would love to see a female Harry…headstrong, brave, a little bit reckless, it would be brilliant!

  3. nitasu987 says:

    Right on! I’m a guy and I definitely saw so much of Hermione in me whether it was through the books or the movies. Can’t wait to see Cursed Child if it comes to America :)

  4. Thank you for this beautiful and perfect blog post. You almost made me cry this morning. I’m so happy that J.K. Rowling & Norma Dumezweni noticed it. I hope Emma Watson reads it too. I sadly can’t afford going to the play, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ I live in the U.S. I’m super excited to read the script. Thank you for representing the best part of the Harry Potter fandom.

    • fionalongmuir says:

      I am so unbelievably bowled over by the love I’ve gotten over this post. Thank you so, so much for reading!

  5. This is so spot on I can’t even begin to explain my feelings. I felt the same way as you did growing up. I was the quiet, nerdy girl wish ridiculously bushy hair and my nose perpetually stuck in a book. I got made fun of for it. I was even physically picked on, pushed around, shoved into lockers. All because I was different, plain, bookish. But that didn’t matter because I had Harry, I had Ron, and, best of all, I had Hermione. Hermione was me…Hermione was also my only friend, a popular girl at my school. She identified with Hermione is her own level as well. Hermione IS all of us. One of the best things about reading is the ability to see oneself as the character. Isn’t that the join of going on adventures without leaving home? You can see yourself, no matter your age, color, gender, orientation, as a character and know you have a place in the world.

    Hermione is all of us. Black, white, brown, blue, green, what have you.

    I think Noma is going to doing a brilliant job, because she is Hermione too.

    Awesome post! I saw this on J. K.’s Twitter! I’m going to share the hell out of this on my book blog’s Twitter!

    Thank you for saying what i’ve been trying to say!

    • Laura says:

      Totally agree with this comment and the blog post as a whole.

      I was so happy aged 9 when I first discovered the Harry Potter series (books 1-3 only at that point) and discovered a main character, a heroine who was just like me, and her character was celebrated for being bookish, clever, into school work, and not stereotypically beautiful or a crush of one of the “main” characters – she WAS a main character, and Harry and Ron would be nothing without her.

      I was lucky enough to see the Cursed Child play last week, and not only was it incredible (obviously) but Noma and all the cast were excellent, and whether they looked like their Warner Bros counterparts, or your imagination’s version of the character descriptions matters not a bit to the splendour of the performance and the play as a whole.

      Additionally, “black Hermione” is not a “different” Hermione. Noma being black makes zero difference to the plot, the production or how you feel about the character, hers is just a different portrayal to Emma Watson’s and that’s literally it. And that’s how it should be. Hermione in the Cursed Child story is still the woman we loved and empathised with (including in the face of her own racial prejudice (“Mudblood”)) throughout childhood and into adulthood whoever plays her, and Noma’s performance is testament to that.

  6. Poster says:

    I don’t tweet so it is nice being able to comment on your blog. As a reaction to Black Hermione, many people have discussed whether Hermione is or isn’t described as white in the books. But does that really matter to answer the question whether Hermione can or cannot not be black on stage? To answer this, let’s look at Reception and Artistic License. I’d have expected these terms to pop up somewhere in discussions, so I’ll just bring them up myself:

    The beauty of art, be it books, poems or songwriting, has always been that it is open to reception by the reader. If it would not be received into their minds and feelings, it would not be more than a thing. Art comes alive at the very moment where each one of us takes it in and form our own pictures and meaning of it in our minds by the power of our imagination and by connecting to our personal experiences. Everyone has their own picture of Hermione and even if she were described differently on the page you’re free to change her skin color in your mind’s eye. It’s also perfectly ok to feel disappointment if the picture on screen or stage is different from your personal mind-picture. You cannot expect everyone else to conform to your own mind-picture though, because they have their own vision and also there is artistic license.

    Artistic licence allows you to make creative decisions to express yourself creatively or create an artistic experience for your audience. You may for example cast an actor with different skin color if you think she is just the right actress to wow your audience. If your change takes away the very reason why people loved this character, you may of course run a risk of disappointing your audience. (Unless you do it so well that people are given something else instead: the gift of a great new experience.) Hermione’s skin color though is most probably not the reason why most readers connected with this beloved character. Given the general message of openness and diversity of the Harry Potter books, not only would casting a black Hermione resonate with and celebrate that message, but also the majority of book readers would probably embrace that decision for the same reasons why they connected with the books.

    So having looked at Hermione’s character considering reception and artistic license, it becomes clear again that it is not really the question of skin color in the books but Black Hermione’s acting talent that matters for bringing the audience a great artistic experience that is true to the heart of the books.

  7. Juliana says:

    I saw this on J.K.’s Twitter… And I’m really glad I did! You’re amazing. Totally in love with this post! Thank you for this breath of fresh air… it was the best thing I’ve read in a very looong time. I wish you the best of everything!

    – From a fellow Brazilian Hermione

  8. Rowling is younger than I am, so she hadn’t written the Harry Potter books when I was a kid–if she had, I’d have loved them. But I read them as an adult and loved them, and yes, Hermione was me. I had flyaway difficult hair; I was told I talked too much, read too many books, and was too smart for my kind (child of divorce, single parent kid, latchkey kid) and just not right in so many ways. (The ideal girl back then where I lived was shorter than me, blonde, blue-eyed, perfectly neat and tidy and clean and quiet and never talked back to anyone and made good grades but not too good.) I was also (at least at times) the annoying know-it-all (and I was right!) I might have dealt with it better if I’d had those books to read.

    So yeah, Hermione is every girl who’s ever struggled against condescension and being excluded and told to shut up and submit. I loved her from the first page and thought YES! You, me, actors of any color…the stories are not “white” stories but universal stories, applicable across the rainbow. Was delighted when a black actor was picked for Hermione. I hope when the play is performed in other countries, even more diverse actors will play Hermione…because it’s her character, not her skin color, that makes her Hermione.

  9. Molly says:

    I connected with this so much. Hermione was a character I resonated with so much and the post reminded me exactly why! Thank you.

  10. Anif says:

    I loved your blog post, I felt just like you as growing up with the Harry Potter book series. Long live all the Hermiones in the world.

  11. Zarfishan Shaukat says:

    Thank you for writing this! Even J.K Rowling hasn’t been able to explain Noma’s casting as well as you. Everyone who’s been ranting against the casting should be made to read this.

  12. Ellie says:

    I teared up reading this. Hermione is every person who has shattered glass ceilings in order to get to their position. She should be a source of inspiration for little girls and boys out there alike. I too am Hermione, and could not be more proud to call Emma Watson, Noma Dumwenzi, you, and of course everyone else, Hermione too.

  13. Hermione is definitely not me. I’ve been described as Luna Lovegood before… ‘In a good way’, whatever it means ;)

    But this piece? On point. Brilliant. Thank you.

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