My Harry Potter love has never wavered over the years since I first read the books, but as I get older and somewhat wiser, I find myself returning to the work. Now, I’m more open to its faults - some minor, others glaring.
The lack of diversity within the series is the one problem that sticks out the most, particularly amid growing discussions in publishing about the need for diversity. It’s clearly an issue that author JK Rowling herself is most aware of. With the Potter universe expanding beyond the seven books, thanks to a two-part stage drama and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them film, that conversation about diversity has been reignited yet again. And it’s the original author who is fanning the flames.
The casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the theatre adaptation, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,has delighted many fans and infuriated others. Rowling’s response was enthusiastic, but her insistence that Hermione could be read as black in the books highlights a wider problem with the series regarding its racial make-up.
Rowling’s openness with her fans has led to further questions over the glaring lack of diversity elsewhere the series, and her responses over each observation or interpretation of her work have raised a number of eyebrows. Much has been made about Dumbledore’s status as a gay character - something confirmed by the author, but never within the books themselves – and now Rowling has talked up the number of LGBTQ and Jewish characters in the series. The problem is we never see those elements of characterisation in the books themselves. The faith, race and sexuality of her characters has been shoe-horned in retroactively, and it can’t help but ring hollow.
The Harry Potter series is what it is: an ambitious, exciting, often infuriating saga that influenced countless people – and set primarily in the realm of straight, white people. That’s not ideal, but as it stands that’s what we have. It’s obvious that Rowling feels some guilt over this, and I applaud her willingness to interrogate her own creation. The issue comes with red pen in the margins style additions to a work already set in stone.
According to the Every Single Word video series, only 0.47 per cent of all lines spoken in the eight Harry Potter films were said by people of colour. The disappointingly white cast of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them suggests a similar pattern in the next film outing. Changing the race of Hermione for the stage offers a fascinating new perspective to a well-loved character and some much needed change to the canon.
Very few characters in the series are explicitly defined by race, but the continued assumption in such instances is that all characters are white unless stated otherwise. The ambiguity of these scenarios offers much in the way of fan theory and interpretation. But it’s not enough.
As the Potter series grows beyond the original books and offers amazing opportunities for non-white characters, the responsibility to explore this sits on the shoulders of Rowling and the many talented people developing the world further. They can only benefit from an ensemble that reflects their wider fan base.
It’s not enough to say that these people were there. We actually have to see them.
Kayleigh Anne is co-editor of Bibliodaze