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 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows since we last see her body “feebly stirring” after Fenrir Greyback’s attack. There is no longer a “presumed dead” attached to her character profile on Pottermore, leading us to believe she may have recovered.
Lavender Brown is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as the first student to be Sorted into Gryffindor. She remains in the background until Harry Potter and the 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 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
As a secondary character for the first half of the series, casting was likely 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. But why recast the role when there was already another actress, Jennifer Smith, playing it? 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.
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 been cast, therefore making the transition of the actor behind the role more subtle and cohesive. Instead, Lavender becomes White in between Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince. It’s not that interracial couples are hidden in the Potter movies; we see Ginny date Dean Thomas and Fred Weasley date Angelina Johnson, and Harry and Ron attend the Yule Ball with Padma and Parvati, respectively.
However, these relationships are not displayed for long, maybe minutes of screen time at most, which makes these things forgettable for casual moviegoers. Imagine the impact had Lavender Brown remained her original ethnicity, having Ron date a Black girl? It could have been an 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, but for others, it has felt like a casual joke when discussing some inaccuracies in the series. Perhaps it’s not even that big of a deal since it is the character that’s important, not the race, but there’s still 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 Smith or the previous actress in the part, Kathleen Cauley, 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.