Friday, June 10, 2016

Umbridge a Death Eater?

This will show you how really attentive a reader I am -- I just realized, as I re-read the first chapter of The Order of the Phoenix for the 20-somethingth time, that Dolores Umbridge sent the Dementors to Little Whinging to kill Harry Potter on that hot summer night.

She wasn't playing around. She took it upon herself, without any consultation with Cornelius Fudge or anyone else, to send the most heinous of magical creatures into Surrey to kill an innocent 15-year-old boy who had committed no crime but witness the rebirth of the Dark Lord and return to tell about it.


I mean, these Dementors meant business. They arrived, attacked and were ready to perform the Kiss on Dudley, an even more innocent bystander in all this, without wasting any time at all.

We only learn at the end of the novel that it was Umbridge who, on her own initiative, sent them to attack Harry but, in retrospect, this action says a great deal about this delightful lady.

She could not have known that Harry was so capable with the old Patronus Charm. We can't give her the benefit of the doubt by arguing that she sent the Dementors to force Harry to perform magic so that the Ministry would then have some grounds to snap his wand and expel him from Hogwarts.

She was trying to kill him.

Why? For upsetting Fudge? For making him look bad?

Is it possible that Umbridge is actually a Death Eater who is simply never identified as such? That she is acting on the Dark Lord's orders, trying to kill the Boy Who Lived after Voldemort failed to do so in the graveyard?

If she isn't a Death Eater, Doesn't her decision to try to have the Dementors kill Harry seem like a bit of an over-reaction under the circumstances? To kill Harry just because he represents the only real evidence available that Voldemort has returned?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Casting aspersions -- Race and the Cursed Child

Some people on social media don't seem to like the idea of a black Hermione.

As you are no doubt aware, when J.K. Rowling's new post-Voldemort play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, debuts in London's west end this summer, it will feature respected actress Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione Granger.

The uproar is because of the colour of Ms. Dumezweni's skin. They have taken to social media to express their outrage that a black actress has been cast in the role. Hermione, the complainers state, is white -- she is described as white in the books, she's portrayed as white in the films, that means she's white.

As "proof", they point out that, in one scene in the books at least, Hermione's face is described as having "turned white" in response to a shock, which they feel is definitive proof that the character is written as being white.

Rowling rebuts the assertion that the Hermione of her canonical novels is described as white by pointing out that physical descriptions of the character in the books lend themselves to any number of racial makeups, not just white. Further, she points out that she never once states categorically that Hermione, or any other character for that matter, is Caucasian.

If I recall correctly, some segments of social media were also outraged when actress Willow Smith, an African-American, was cast as the character Rue, an angelic and highly sympathetic young girl, in the first Hunger Games movie.

The whole argument makes me very sad, both that people out there have to get up in arms about these casting decisions and that Rowling herself feels the need to wade in to take them on.

I wish I could believe that the people who protest having Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione or Willow Smith in the role of Rue were expressing their outrage because they are genuinely concerned with the sanctity of canon, genuinely interested in ensuring that the new versions stayed true to the original books.

After all, I myself get hung up sometimes in how the stories I love are changed, and not often for the better, when they are adapted to the movie media. It's never on the issue of the race of the actors cast, mind you, but still, I do resent when film adaptations make changes to the original simply for the sake of change.

But it's not loyalty that I see here. After all, I didn't see the same uproar when the filmmakers made hundreds, nay thousands of changes to the original Harry Potter books in making their eight movies. We didn't see protests about how Neville was changed, or what happened with Luna, or Snape or Dumbledore or... Well, you get the picture.

What seems to me to be going on here is, as Rowling recently said, racism pure and simple.

The issue does not seem to be that a character who was, whether legitimately or not, thought to be white in the original book is portrayed by a black actor/actress. The issue seems to me to be that a beloved, noble, admirable, sympathetic, leading character  who was, whether legitimately or not, thought to be white in the original book is portrayed by a black actor/actress.

Further, I wonder if the mere fact that the character in question was a beloved, noble, admirable, sympathetic, leading character didn't actually influence these readers into believing, despite significant evidence to the contrary (in the case of Rue) or no real evidence either way (in the case of Hermione), that the character was written originally as white.

In other words, if we love the character, she must be white. If we find her noble, admirable or sympathetic, she can't be black.

Others have presented this question even more starkly, suggesting that the people complaining about the casting of Rue as an African-American were thinking: "I cried when this character died -- I would never cry at the death of a black character, therefore she cannot be black."

It gets scary, doesn't it?

The racism seems to be so deeply ingrained that at least some of the people complaining about the black Hermione might not even recognize the racist roots of their feelings.

I don't really have any hope of seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, with Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione, but I really wish I could. I expect the play to have a fantastic run in London's west end and I hope to see it mounted, with diverse actors, in Canada soon.