Last week, I discovered a series of videos that showed how many times people of color speak in the Harry Potter films. Part of a series of videos called Every Single Word, the videos were meant to critique the lack of speaking roles for people of color. The video series was created by actor Dylan Marron.
Many people have accused Dylan Marron of calling J.K.Rowling and the Harry Potter series racist, but that is hardly the case. Instead, he has pointed out how some people can’t see themselves on screen because they are hardly there. On average, each character of color in the entire Harry Potter film series speaks about thirty seconds. The best way this could’ve been avoided is by making at least one or two of the main characters a person of color.
While you might think that the secondary characters of color are enough, it’s not. Since J.K. Rowling rarely specified a character’s race in the book, it is almost impossible to tell whether a character is a person of color. Even if they are a person of color, they are easy to overlook unless they are an important character or they’re a part of a small cast.
When I read the Harry Potter series as a kid and teen, I barely knew there were characters of color. I remember reading the third book and wondering whether Hermione Granger was Black, because in that book she’s described as “very brown”. Since I wasn’t sure, I thought the only characters of color in the books at that point were Lee Jordan, Dean Thomas, and Cho Chang.
I knew that these characters and future characters like Kingsley Shacklebolt and Blaise Zambini were people of color because they were described as such. While some of these characters had decent side-stories in the books, it was easy to forget about them because of the focus on the main characters and the fact that the side-stories weren’t in the films.
Another reason that the film adaptations of the books failed its characters of color is that they risked confusing its viewers with casting changes. In the first three films, the character of Angelina Johnson was played by a light-skinned actress named Danielle Tabor. However, in the fourth film, Angelina was played by a darker-skinned actress named Tiana Benjamin before the character disappeared all together.
While Every Single Word was meant to critique the Harry Potter films, it showed that both the books and the films are at fault. If the book covers had the main characters as people of color and the secondary characters of color weren’t a hit-and-miss, the books and the films would have been improved.
Some critics of Marron’s take on the films have used census data to say that there weren’t a lot of Black people in the U.K. when the books were written. Since the book series has been read by millions around the world, this fact does not apply. It is strange to think that wizards and magical creatures can exist in a fantasy world, but complex people of color or other marginalized voices can’t.
When I was in high school, Hermione Granger was one the literary characters I turned to for comfort. Like her, I was made fun of for being nerdy, but she made me feel like someday I could be more than just a misfit. Yet because Hermione was depicted as white in the movies and elsewhere, I felt like a girl of color like me couldn’t be someone like her.
I will always love the Harry Potter series. I am grateful to J.K. Rowling for introducing me to fantasy fiction and making my childhood and teen years magical. However, as someone who had a hard time finding a character that looked and acted like me, it would’ve been even more magical to see a Black Hermione on screen.