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J.K. Rowling on the reaction to a black Hermione: 'Idiots were going to idiot'

On the eve of previews for a Harry Potter play, the author discusses the casting of a black actress as Hermione and releases a video begging fans to keep the new story's secrets.

Paul Thornley plays Ron Weasley, Noma Dumezweni plays Hermione Granger, and Cherrelle Skeete plays their daughter, Rose Granger-Weasley.
Charlie Gray

Hermione Granger isn't new to prejudice. As the wizard child of Muggle dentists, she came in for plenty of "Mudblood" taunts and other epithets in the Harry Potter books.

And it came as no surprise to Potter author J.K. Rowling that not everyone loved it when black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione in the two-part play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which begins previews Tuesday.

"With my experience of social media, I thought that idiots were going to idiot," Rowling told The Guardian in an article published Sunday. "That's the way the world is."

And Rowling stands behind the casting. "Noma was chosen because she was the best actress for the job," she said. "When [director] John [Tiffany] told me he'd cast her, I said, 'Oh, that's fabulous' because I'd seen her in a workshop and she was fabulous."

The author reiterated in the interview what she's pointed out before: Hermione's skin color was never mentioned in the books, even though some readers have debated even the most minuscule mentions of the character's appearance for signs that might identify her race.

"I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione 'turned white' -- that is, lost color from her face after a shock -- that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with," Rowling said. "But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm."

It's not the only recent debate over the race of a fictional character. Discussion of the next actor to play James Bond has suggested crossing not only racial lines, possibly casting "Luther" and "The Wire" star Idris Elba, but also gender lines, as "X-Files" star Gillian Anderson has publicly played with the idea. And the reboot of the "Ghostbusters" film with all women in the lead roles has also caused controversy.

Rowling herself has faced a similar reaction before when she revealed that Hogwarts' headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay, noting that "if Harry Potter taught us anything, it's that no one should live in a closet."

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which introduces audiences to the children of the original Potter main characters, begins previews at London's Palace Theatre on Tuesday. It officially opens July 30. With the first preview hours away, Rowling has released a 30-second video urging fans who see the show to keep its secrets and not spoil the plot for other fans.

She's already let slip that fans should be prepared for tears, but then no one expected The Boy Who Lived to just sail off into a quiet middle age.