'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' lets down women and betrays Hermione's legacy
Whether you loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or wanted to stab it with a basilisk fang, it's obvious right off the bat the tale is not really J.K. Rowling's. It says so right on the cover. Playwright Jack Thorne was the man primarily entrusted with showing us a glimpse into Harry Potter's future. Instead, by deflating and devaluing every female character, he blasted Harry 70 years into the past.
Reading Cursed Child casts the complexity and diversity of Rowling's original characters into high relief. Jo gave us brainy women, sporty women, delusional women, motherly women, women who only talked about Nargles, women who were also ghosts — the list goes on. They all seemed real, not because Rowling was trying to jam a message down our throats, but because she gave us a full world and women, you know, happen to be an equal part of it. As the pages of Cursed Child flip by, however, these full, complete women we know so well start to fade. They become two-dimensional shadows of their former selves who only store feelings or opinions that help to facilitate our male heroes' (Harry Potter and his second son Albus) emotional journey. Their strong voices become whispers. Hermione Granger would never stand for this shit.
Perhaps that's why Thorne cast Reducto on her character. Right away, we learn that our frizzy-haired, buck-toothed, original DGAF boss bitch grows up to be the Minister of Magic. Thorne then shows her spending the majority of her time having to remind people that she's the Minister of Friggin' Magic. Her male peers ignore her voice and disregard her authority in every interaction. We meet the modern Hermione while she is nudging Harry to do the bare minimum of his work responsibilities (she's been carrying his ass since Year 1 at Hogwarts), and it is not until she reminds him that she's his boss and the longstandingMinister of Magic that he begrudgingly agrees to do his job.
Later, Harry and Draco Malfoy usurp a meeting Hermione calls, interrupting and speaking over the Minister of Magic in her office. Again, we have to watch Our Lady Granger remind the men in her life, "Hey, hi, I'm the LEADER OF YOUR PEOPLE." She holds the highest ranking government office and still she has to ask for respect. The issue is not whether or not this would happen in the real world (ask Hillary in November), it's that we've never seen casual sexism like this before in the Harry Potter world. Thorne certainly wasn't stepping on Hermione's words purposely; he was probably just focusing on moving along Harry's plotline. But the carelessness with which he treated the depiction of a woman in power makes clear the biggest problem with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: we can tell it's written by a man when we shouldn't feel the writer's presence at all. The magical world we adore has suddenly been filtered through a particularly narrow male perspective — and unfortunately he's just getting started.
Nothing feels more offensive to Hermione's legacy than an alternate reality (Cursed Child is all about time travel gone wrong) in which Hermione does not become Minister of Magic, but instead a malicious, shrew-like, even frizzier-haired Defense Against the Darks Arts teacher at Hogwarts. And it's all because she didn't marry Ron. While partners are wonderful support unicorns who can challenge you to follow your dreams and be a better person, the implication that a woman owes her success to her husband is a tired and insulting trope that deserves to die in a fiery blaze of Avada Kedavra.
Hermione was so ambitious at 13 that she and Dumbledore broke wizarding laws so she could take more classes. No amount of pining could stop this hard-working witch from achieving her dreams. If only Thorne had stopped to think about his female characters for a second, he would have realized how deeply offensive this scenario is. It is demeaning to imply that Hermione needs Ron to be likable (see also: every rom-com about a neurotic professional woman) or more attractive (see also: every rom-com ever). It's damaging and disappointing to undermine her earned professional accomplishments when she is a role model to so many.
Unfortunately, Thorne didn't just ruin Hermione. Ginny, the bold and independent Quidditch lover has, as Harry's wife, been reduced to a human shruggie. "Oh, Harry's making profoundly damaging parenting decisions without even thinking to consult me?" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Minerva McGonagall, the woman who held Hogwarts to the last, is suddenly cowed and intimidated by Harry Potter's mid-temper tantrum threats. The Hogwarts Express Witch is comically inept and Hermione's daughter Rose is a boring stereotype of a popular teenage girl.
The sole new female character, Delphi, is a twenty-something who spends her time flirting with the moody 14-year-old Albus. Even when you get to the end of the script and understand her motives, the flirting feels more like Thorne bringing his inner emotional teen's sexy dream to life than making a necessary plot choice. The result of all this is Harry Potter and the Male Gaze: A parade of irresponsible depictions of flat women who had their souls Dementor's Kissed right out of them.
These are not the characters Rowling gave us. Jo gave us women who mattered, who had voices even when they disagreed with men. Thorne gave us women with meek words whose personalities changed and disappeared and betrayed past growth to facilitate Harry's plotline at key moments, women who had been whittled down from their complexities to their conveniences. That's more than just lazy writing; it's disrespectful to the franchise and complicit in the real life, centuries-old epidemic of damaging underrepresentation. Cursed Child isn't worthy of the Harry Potter name. The women characters we've known for nearly 20 years would have some choice words for Thorne's negligently sexist fanfiction — words like Incendio. Expulso. And Shut. It. Down.