Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael is the writer, director, and showrunner of the new web series, “Hermione and the Quarter-Life Crisis”. In the series, Hermione Granger finds herself unsatisfied with her life in her mid-twenties, working at the Ministry of Magic and planning to marry Ron Weasley. She leaves Ron and goes to L.A. to find herself. There she meets Parvati Patel, Draco Malfoy and her witty, feminist, American cousin, LaQuita Granger. The series is available on the Sunshine Moxie YouTube channel. We sat down with Yisrael to talk about creating this web series, breaking into fanfiction and redefining Hermione Granger.
The Tempest: Your past work has been so much more serious, this feels like fan fiction brought to life. How did you get into Harry Potter?
Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael: I was always into reading fanfiction and there were a few that I read that were so good and reading them I thought “I want to be able to do this!” There’s one that’s so good, called “The Fallout”. I played around with the idea of making that into a short film because it’s just so fantastic, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that in a way that would small enough that I could do it independently. And so, this idea has been in my head for a few years that I wanted to do something but kept thinking about adapting something that I’ve loved and last year it hit me that I could do fan fiction in my own way and write a show. So that’s when it (fanfic) became something for me to do as opposed to for me to consume. For a lot us who do fan fiction it’s because we want more of the story because a lot of us feel like it didn’t end right.
TT: Tell me about how you created this version of Hermione.
My first introduction to the idea that Hermione could be Black started with Deviantart and Tumblr, and seeing race bent Harry Potter fan art. I just thought “Oh my god,” because I didn’t read the first two books and I had never heard of Harry Potter until I saw the first two movies, so my first Hermione was Emma Watson. I actually ended up reading “The Prisoner of Azkaban” as a favor to my mom because my little brother wanted to read it and she wanted to make sure it was OK but she didn’t have time. I thought “Sure, the movies were cute, I’ll read that book, no problem” and I was blown away by how good it was. Harry Potter became my favorite book series but Hermione, as far as I imagined, was white and I never questioned it because that’s just what I started with. So, when I started to think about her as a Black woman and I started finding blog posts and stories about it, Hermione was presented to me as a Black Londoner from a specific class and that really did influence me.
TT: So, it’s clear from what’s been previewed about the series that one thing that sets you apart from other work that’s race bent is you’ve taken the liberty to create a sense that Hermione is a part of black culture instead of being this incidentally black woman in the wizarding world. How did you do go about doing that?
When I think about her in the books it feels like she’d be a whitewashed black character and I wanted to see who she’d be outside that predominantly white school and social circle. So let’s start with Hermione’s cousin. That was very intentional. I chose to name her cousin LaQuita because I wanted to root Hermione in blackness. Black Americans have really had to create our own culture from scratch, and that’s so different in Britain. I went to London and I met a girl whose parents had come from Africa, and I’m sure she hadn’t even thought about it, but she asked me where my family was from in Africa. I had to tell her that Black Americans don’t know. In the US there are last names that are super common because of slavery, and then in the 70’s and there was a movement to embrace a kind of cultural pride and Black people in America started making up names. People make fun of it and they get down on it but to me, it’s this incredible idea- we don’t know where we came from but we are going to reject what’s been forced upon us and by creating our own names we are creating a culture. I find it so fascinating and so admirable. I know the demographics of Harry Potter fans and I thought it would be an interesting way to get Potter fans, in this subtle way thinking about that. I want people to talk about a character whose name is LaQuita and who is a Granger. She’s very much like Hermione in that she’s ambitious and smart and well spoken. LaQuita is all those things and it’s going to be interesting to see how people respond to that. That’s going to go one of two ways, either it’s going to go over really well or people are going to be really upset but hey that’s inevitable. Beyond the fact that her skin is black, her life is that of a Black person. Of course, I’m an American and I don’t know the intricacies of Black British culture so I did make the choice to make her father an American and that’s why she has family in Los Angeles.
TT: What’s it been like to actually put together a project of this size?
It’s difficult but I’m so fortunate that a lot people believe in what we are doing and have committed themselves. That’s the hardest part, that’s always the hardest part, getting people that can and will commit. It’s difficult and that’s one of those things my sister gets to see. I’m so proud of her because she’s also our caterer our craft services. And because this is what we want to do and this is our passion a lot of us are making sacrifices and pushing ourselves to our limits. We’re working jobs and just finding the fortitude we need. We encourage each other and sometimes we get frustrated and sometimes we just laugh at how ridiculous it all is.
TT: So what do you want your viewers to take away from this?
I think that if you have a vision for your life it’s really important to commit to that vision and do whatever it takes to make it a reality. I would want someone to take away that your life only has to look like what you want it to look like, and that’s it. There’s literally nobody else who gets a say in what your life looks like you are the only person. Whether it’s TV, society, parents, siblings, friends, you know we’ve all been given this idea of how its supposed to look and what’s supposed to happen and I reject that. especially because when I was 12 I looked around at the adults in my life and I said I wanted to work in a creative field and people called it a pipe dream. It didn’t make sense to me because these people were telling me not to pursue my dream but they were all miserable. So I promised myself that I would not be a miserable adult and thankfully, I’ve been able to stay true to that 12-year-olds promise. I get to choose what my life looks like and that’s what I want people to take away.