“As a biracial girl growing up in a very white city, I found myself especially attaching to the allegory of Harry Potter’s blood politics. In middle school, when I was confronting that there were people out there who’d call me “n****r,” I thought back to Hermione being called “mudblood” and harassed by teacher and students alike. I related to her deeply, but like with so much of what I watched and read, I couldn’t see myself in Hermione.”
“Racebent” characters have long been making appearances on sites like Tumblr, but they’ve been picking up heat recently. One of the most popular and frequent, at least on my dash? Hermione Granger as a woman of color, most often black. For the first time, I was seeing Hermione’s subtext brought out into text.
I was seeing parts of myself actually spelled out in this character I’d always related to. The part of me that had always been text met up with the movement of Hermione’s story from allegorical Wizarding World “other” to the kind of other I’d always felt like.”
– Alanna Bennet
“What A ‘Racebent’ Hermione Granger Really Represents”
Year of Origin
First hashtag use on Twitter was 2013, but the concept of a Black Hermione likely existed earlier in digital fanspaces and transformative works found in those spaces, such as works posted in LiveJournal or DeviantArt.
Platform of Origin
From what I can see, Twitter was the first platform to use the hashtag, but the bending of the original narrative to include a Black Hermione is the concept far more interesting to my work. I argue that this originated in the black female fan imagination and so it spread accordingly to spaces where that imagination is expressed through creative means: Tumblr, LiveJournal, Fanfiction.net, Instagram, DeviantArt, The Archive of Our Own, and more.
Harry Potter had and continues to have broad appeal across audiences. One of the narrative (and, for some, contested) feminist victories of the series is the bright, capable, and independent character of Hermione Granger. Many young girls and women could identify with her experience and role in school as “the smart girl” in the class and as a social leader, but for some the identification became limited when the character was brought to life in the live action film through the casting of a white actress. This feeling of “limited identification” is a common experience for POC fans who are more often than not presented with white heroes and heroines. The reparative work of claiming Hermione (a character whose most frequently described physical trait is her “curly” and “frizzy” hair) and her outsider minority experience as a “Black” narrative in the Wizarding World is radical, but not a stretch. This wound has a built-in shortcut for healing through the openings left in the original narrative (see JK Rowling’s Tweet on this opening below) and fanworks swarmed to bridge the gap of identification.
Narrative Bender (leading figure or figures behind the movement)
None that I could find; the original concept decentralized quickly and/or arose organically for fans of Harry Potter.
A notable milestone of the #BlackHermione movement was the public co-signing (whether intentional or not) of the movement by the production team behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the theatrical production and canonical “sequel” to the Harry Potter novels. In December 2015, the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a dark-skinned English actress of South African descent. While this production team may not have been aware of the history of #BlackHermione fancasting and transformative works
In April of 2014 the #BlackHermione hashtag is first used on Twitter.
November 2013 on Instagram
October 2016 on DeviantArt – @natello (also at atalienart.tumblr.com)
The allegorical bedrock of Harry Potter is part of its appeal. Acknowledging that our world does not have Wizards and Muggles, but that our world *does* have oppressors/majority privileges and minority oppression is also at the bedrock of JK Rowling’s social hopes for her story. Fans have continued her work by applying the allegory elsewhere and so the narrative bending in this case study works on at least three levels:
- It helps concretize and familiarize us with Hermione’s oppressions and reframes her victories – both social, educational, and political and
- It helps us consider how we can engage with oppression in our own lives, whether we are the social Wizard or the social Muggle. Audiences *want* Hermione to exceed and cheer on the demise of the belief systems and villains who would harm her for who she is. What, then, is our role when those systems and villains appear in our own world? and
- POC fans who fell in love with Hermione are given permission to fully identify with her and her experience on deeper, fuller levels of engagement.
The new narrative here is that Muggles are not a fictional-only minority. Muggles are a stand-in for oppressed minorities in our real-world history. Another fresh take is that Hermione’s race was never guaranteed as white, even though, for many fans, this was their default head canon. Hermione’s blackness doesn’t undermine the character, it enhances and enriches her story instead.
Lineage (previous or subsequent social movements)
- Chromatic Recasting continues to be a fan favorite activity, and is present throughout Harry Potter fandom as well as in other fandoms.
BONUS! Subject/Movement interaction!
A consequence of this bent narrative in the Cursed Child casting announcement in December 2015 is that fans began to confront racism in the HP fandom and entertainment audiences at large. New conversations about the impact of a Black Hermione (and emotional responses to the casting) began to circulate on Twitter and put fans, casual audience members, bloggers, and news sources in dialogue that threaded through the three points above. JK Rowling herself weighed in on the “controversy” on more than one occasion.