Here we go again.
It was only last year that Megyn Kelly from Fox News was insisting that not only is Santa Claus white (despite being based on St. Nicholas, who was from modern-day Turkey) but so is Jesus (who was a Jewish lad from the middle east).
This Christmas, people are complaining that a new play about the Harry Potter gang is wrong because it casts Hermione as a black woman.
Hello? Hermione is fictional! She’s a made-up people! She doesn’t really exist! (And anyway, J.K. Rowling pointed out that at no time is Hermione’s race mentioned in the books — only that she has “brown eyes and frizzy hair.” And then “large front teeth.” And there’s another mention in a later book that talks about her “looking brown.” Seriously.)
Not all of the complaints about this are from racist bigots. Sometimes the biggest complainers are the fanboys who get an idea in their heads and decide that X version of a fictional character is the only one possible, and any variation is blasphemy. “Superman can’t be black!” they scream, ignoring the fact that Superman isn’t even human — he could be green and polka dotted (although that might make his secret identity a bit tougher to hide).
Sometimes the race of a character matters in a fictional story. I’m currently working on a steampunk novel featuring Teddy Roosevelt. The main character is a black woman, and that is very important to the plotline, since the story takes place at a time when neither women nor blacks had any real power.
But Hermione? Why not? Isn’t one of the biggest themes in the Harry Potter novel about how we should accept people for who they are and not discriminate? The bad guys were all concerned with “purity of blood,” remember? Isn’t it obvious that the race of their fellow students didn’t matter to the Potter gang? Before hooking up with Ginny, Harry had dates with Cho Chang (Chinese ancestry) and Pavarti Patil (Indian ancestry), right? And didn’t Rowlings have a pretty diverse cast (well, for something taking place in England)? Okay, enough — my inner nerd is escaping.
Re-interpretations of fictional works happen all the time. Geez, look at how many times Shakespeare is done in a new way. Fictional characters can change race and sex and everything.
Which, coincidentally, brings me to another book I am editing now: Alternate Sherlocks — a collection of short stories featuring some pretty well-known authors — with Sherlock Holmes in new versions: as a female child, as an alien, as a vampire, as a parrot …
I sure hope that the speciests don’t come after me for that one.