The Race of Lavender Brown and Why It Matters
There are several debates concerning the Potter universe that may never be resolved, and two of them include Ron’s first girlfriend, Lavender Brown. The more prevalently known concerns whether Brown lived through Deathly Hallows since we last see her body “feebly stirring” after Fenrir Greyback’s attack. As far as we know, or as Pottermore states, there is no longer a “presumed dead” attached to her character profile, leading us to believe she may have recovered.
However, that is not what I want to talk about. Maybe you know what I’m itching at. My initial viewing of the Potter films introduced me to Lavender Brown in Movie 6 as a caucasian teenager. After several re-runs and fan discussions, I picked up on the original Lavender Browns who were persons of color (Jennifer Smith and Kathleen Cauley). In honor of Black History Month, I want to take a few minutes to discuss why it is important that this secondary character undergoes such a large change over the course of a number of films.
Lavender Brown is first mentioned in Sorcerer’s Stone as the first student to be sorted into Gryffindor. She remains in the background until Prisoner of Azkaban when her pet rabbit Binky passes, proving one of Trelawney’s predictions, and we do not hear much from her again until Half-Blood Prince.
As a secondary character for the first half of the series, I presume casting was not seen as a heavy task. Lavender remained in the background with minimal interaction, and the casting directors would have had no inclination that Lavender would later emerge in a larger role. So why recast the role when actresses had already been playing the role? One possibility could be the general fact that the production company felt they needed a stronger performer for the part, hence a new audition, which led to Jessie Cave’s casting. One Reddit user does claim that there were black actresses at the new auditions for Lavender’s role, and Cave was simply best suited for the job.
I will never say that Cave did a poor job in her role. I firmly believe she was a phenomenal Lavender Brown. I do think it stinks that another emerging actress lost her job, essentially, after her character was revealed to be of larger importance than its original conception. For any Game of Thrones fans, they know this happens often, an example being the recasting of Myrcella Baratheon. Myrcella was hardly seen in the first two seasons of the HBO show but re-emerged this past season, and a new actress was placed in the role to the original’s dismay.
Skill aside, why did Lavender change ethnicities? If there was a need to find a stronger actress, there are hundreds of girls of African descent who could have done the role, therefore making the transition of the role more subtle and cohesive. Instead, Lavender becomes white over the course of two films (she is not noticeably seen in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix) with no explanation (because who can explain that?). It’s not that interracial couples are hidden in Potter; we see Ginny date Dean Thomas, Fred Weasley date Angelina Johnson, and Harry and Ron attend the Yule Ball with Padma and Parvati, so there is minimal reason for excuse on that front.
These relationships are not displayed for long, maybe minutes of screen time at most, which makes these things forgettable for casual movie goers. Imagine the impact had Lavender Brown remained her original ethnicity, having Ron date a girl of color? It was another opportunity for the films to demonstrate more diversity and share with fans that mixed couples are a part of normal life.
To put it in perspective, there are five known black characters in the entire Potter series: Dean Thomas, Angelina Johnson, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lee Jordan, and Blaise Zabini. Five. The lack of diversity is evident, and the occasion to introduce another black character was placed on a platter for the producers, and they ignored it. The Potter series has taught multiple generations numerous lessons, and one on diverse racial relationships could have been a powerful one to add to their list.
Lavender Brown’s ethnicity remains to be something that people only half notice. Passionate fans may have strong feelings about Lavender’s race, and for others it has felt like a casual joke when discussing some inaccuracies in the series (“Hey, remember how Lavender Brown was black in the first three films? Good times,” for example). Perhaps it’s not even that big of a deal since it is the character that’s important, not the race, but there will still be the fact that cannot be ignored that instead of keeping a character in its original form, they changed nearly everything about her to better fit the screen. To be fair, there is no information about whether either of the former Lavenders wished to keep the role, so we cannot eliminate the idea that perhaps the two were done with the series.
At the end of the day, we will continue to love Lavender Brown for her personality, and the color of her skin cannot change that.
For more information on Lavender Brown, you can see her character infographic chart on Pottermore.