How Harry Potter’s Hermione suffered a very Hollywood fate

Posted on 31 July 2011


As Hermione Granger grew up, her bookish, brainy persona was reduced to being more sexy, less threatening – and less magical

Sarah Jane Stratford, Saturday 30 July 2011

In Deathly Hallows, Hermione (played by Emma Watson) wears ‘jeans so tight you’d think her legs would break if she tried to run’. Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk

“I can’t.”What? Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can. Sorry, filmmakers, that quavering girly-girl is not Hermione.

Maybe it was a fluke, a contrivance to make Ron the more capable one for a change, showing that Hermione was no longer a bossy know-it-all. Maybe. Except that in Deathly Hallows: Part One, when the snatcher Scabior pauses at the edge of the hidden encampment and sniffs, Hermione wobbles to Harry and Ron that he could smell her perfume. Perfume?! That’s just riddikulus. We’ve known since Goblet of Fire that when the occasion arises, Hermione can dress up and be a glamour queen. But on the run, living rough, hunting horcruxes, and facing the possibility of death at any moment, Hermione is not even going to pack perfume in her magical bag, let alone wear it.

There’s almost a direct correlation with actress Emma Watson’s growing prettiness through the course of the films and Hermione’s decreased bookishness and pragmatism. Screenwriter Steve Kloves may have liked Hermione best when he was first given the job of adapting the books but as she became an adolescent, something shifted. It’s one thing for a girl to be the brains of an operation when everyone is prepubescent. But an adult woman who is brainy and takes charge is “domineering”. A very scary witch indeed. Presumably Kloves didn’t want any young male filmgoers sneering (or crossing their legs nervously) when Hermione was on screen.

Which misses the point that millions of young males and females already considered her an old friend long before the first owl hit the screen. While cinema demands streamlined plots and arcs – and, of course, the stories are about Harry – diminishing Hermione’s overt scholarliness and complex thinking under high pressure is more peculiar than a Blibbering Humdinger.

It’s also discouraging. Hermione is a great role model who doesn’t care if her bookishness or activism (absent in the films) are laughed at. She knows the power of books.

It can’t help Hermione that, although the productions are British, the series is owned by the very Hollywood studio Warner Bros. Warner’s president, Jeff Robinov, was alleged to have said in 2007 (when Half-Blood Prince had begun filming) that the studio was “no longer doing movies with women in the lead”. Such sexist policy would no doubt affect supporting characters, turning famously multilayered females into more standard Hollywood fare.

Hermione steadily became blonder and sexier in Deathly Hallows, wearing jeans so tight you’d think her legs would break if she tried to run. When it comes to film, something about a smart, fearless woman who doesn’t care about her looks makes Hollywood leery; even if, in this instance, she commands a loyal and loving built-in audience before the film begins.

Why is it so difficult for proudly brainy, bookish, outspoken girls of any age to see themselves on screen, especially in major studio films? Where are the girls who don’t make an effort to fit the “feminine” stereotype and are still admired and even loved anyway?

And where will girls learn and be validated in their belief that they don’t have to compromise fundamental aspects of their personalities to prosper? That there is never any reason to say “I can’t”? Books, for a start.