I'll always remember where I was when I heard the news. It can't be true, I thought. Has J K Rowling destroyed the magical world that galvanised the imagination of my otherwise unimaginative youth? Have the producers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child made such an error in casting the franchise is all but ruined? Out the corner of my eye, I saw the picture attached to the press release. I frantically googled the actor. It was true. A man with light brown hair was playing Ronald Bilius Weasley. The horror.
Immediately, I rushed to the only forum I know where rational people gather for level-headed debate: Twitter. Obviously, everyone was talking about the casting. They must be, I assumed, as annoyed as I about this misjudgement. The inviolable world of Twitter, however, was consumed with something different. Apparently, a black woman is to portray Hermione Granger. Ignoring this seemingly trivial matter, I continued to scroll down hysterically looking for comments concerning Ron. There was nothing. I didn't understand.
Why were folks annoyed Hermione was black? I mean, Hermione was never specifically white - not in the books, at least. And, as Stephen Bush explains, there is ample, although not conclusive, evidence to suggest she may have been black. Either way, Hermione's identity was never clearly aligned with a particular race.
Superficially speaking, the female lead in the movies, Emma Watson, differed substantially from Hermione. Hermione's hair was always bushy, but Watson's was only bushy in the first film. Hermione's teeth were 'larger than average' - until the tooth-shrinking spell (Densaugeo) in The Goblet of Fire - whereas Watson's were, you know, average. It's rather interesting that certain folks are able to overlook these superficial anomalies, but when producers cast a racially unspecified character as black, they have a problem.
It seems folks assume Hermione was white because Rowling never told us she wasn't. This is a classic case of the unwritten rule of literature: white until proven otherwise. A non-sensical, offensive, default interpretation and one we apply to a surfeit of fictional and indeed mythical characters: Katniss Everdeen, Santa Claus and, of course, Jesus Christ.
Imagining Santa, for example, as black doesn't change any aspect of his character. Instead of being a fat, drunk, super altruistic white dude, Santa is a fat, drunk, super altruistic black dude. The same applies to Jesus - although he was skinny, relatively sober and not as altruistic. Like Hermione, the identity of such characters is not indebted to any particular idea of race. In a similar sense, as Rowling previously specified, Dumbledore could easily be gay, as his sexuality doesn't play a role in determining his identity. Rowling, in one of Twitter's lovelier moments, said Dumbledore could be gay 'because gay people look just like...people.' Dumbledore's lack of overt sexuality means he could be any sexuality.
Hermione's skin colour isn't important in the book and thus isn't important in the play. Thus, this entire debate is essentially moot. As ever, what the wider population of planet earth should focus on is and always will be Ron - the true hero of the franchise. And Ron has to be ginger. This is because his entire identity is indebted to his gingerousness. In a strange sense, the Weasley gingerosity gives them special powers: it connects the Weasley clan and is a source of strength against adversity. Folks mock Ron for his ginger hair and this affords him a sort of stoic charm. Ron's power and his presence are all beholden to his innate gingerousness.
This is the true issue of the day. Not whether a racially unspecified character can be black, but whether a ginger character built into the ginger identity can be anything other than ginger. I'm worried this might not work. This will inexorably depend on the acting skill of Paul Thornley: the bloke playing Ron. Thornley will have to die his hair and attempt, somehow, to capture the identity of gingerousness. It will be the challenge of his career and the entire franchise, in my opinion, rests on his humble, brown-haired head.