How Much Does Representation Matter In Media? A Lot.

Anyone who knows me could tell you right away that Hermione Granger is one of my favorite literary characters of all time.

Ever since I was old enough for my mom to start reading the Harry Potter books to me at bedtime, I’ve loved Hermione.  We both loved books and often carried huge volumes home from the library for “a bit of light reading.”  I appreciated how she never had to be told that she was beautiful in order to be good at what she did and how she took her frizzy hair and large teeth in stride.  Hermione was smart, competent, and – let’s face it – the reason that Harry Potter survived most of the series.

Fast forward to the end of 2015 when my not-so-inner Harry Potter fan girl was anxiously waiting for the cast announcement of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Who was going to play the main trio and could they possibly live up to the standards set by the movie cast, specifically Emma Watson’s Hermione?

The production cast English actress Noma Dumezweni to play the older version of Hermione Granger.

While I didn’t think much of the implications of Dumezweni’s casting at the time,  people online had strong opinions.

Last September, it was announced that Amandla Stenberg would play the lead role of Ruby Daly in The Darkest Minds, a young adult trilogy by Alexandra Bracken.

 

While some readers voiced their discontent at the casting choice of the character, that was described in the books as having green eyes and dark hair, most fans were overjoyed at the news.

Although the reactions towards Stenberg’s casting were more positive than Dumezweni’s as Hermione, there was still this same sense of shock and awe – as if no one had any idea that a major film franchise based off of a popular book series would cast anyone other than a white lead.

My blonde haired, blue-eyed sister told me one time that she didn’t think it mattered what race her favorite characters were in books.  She said that she knew she could do anything and didn’t have to see leads that looked like her to prove that.  While that statement would, in a perfect world, make sense, it almost invalidated her argument for me.  We both come at the situation from such a profound place of privilege where we don’t have to look far to find characters that look like us in popular culture.

When I read Hermione and Ruby I pictured them as girls who looked like me.  I liked that I could see myself in them and relate to their character arcs in different ways.  But who I am to say that other people aren’t allowed to see those characters in a way that represents them and their journey?  Who is anyone to say that?

I think that representation in YA literature and films has become so whitewashed that, unless a character is specifically described as being of color, there’s an automatic assumption that they are white.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with imaging that a fictional character looks like you, it becomes an issue when they’re value and worth as a character is tied to the color of their skin, or when people seem to believe that Hermione won’t be Hermione anymore if she’s played by a black actress.

The reason that Hermione is such a strong character isn’t because of the fact that Emma Watson is white.  People related to Hermione because she was clever, bold and resourceful long before the movies were made.  I love Ruby Daly not because she has green eyes, but because she’s brave and selfless and kind – qualities that I assume Stenberg possesses.

What it comes down to is this:  there are great book-to-movie adaptations and there are ones that are just OK.  Then there are those really terrible omg what did I just watch adaptations.  Funnily enough, however no film has ever been bad because of how the lead looked, or what color their skin was.

While I can’t wait to see Amandla Stenberg in this role, I think I’m a little more excited for the newest generation of actresses she’s going to inspire along the way.

 

 

News Reporter

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