Not so long ago, my family and I went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, in Southern California. In a word, it was amazing. Despite my being too broad-shouldered (and totally crushed) that I couldn’t fit into the seat for “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” (my wife and daughter said it was the single best ride of their lives), the trip was worth the drive to get there. So was waiting in the horrendous lines. What rendered moot any complaints of inconvenience was the near-constant look of awe and wonder on my daughter’s face.
From taking a picture with a Hogwart’s Express conductor, to watching the parade of the boys from the Durmstrang Institute and the girls from Beauxbaton’s Academy of Magic, to seeing the portraits speak and interact in the halls of Hogwart’s, the experience was breathtaking.
As a family we’ve read the books, seen the films, and now we walked Harry Potter’s fictional streets. Fictional streets made, in the words of Umberto Eco, almost ‘hyperreal’ by teams of talented engineers, artists, and groups of wonderful actors.
We ate breakfast at the “Three Broomsticks.” A full English that tasted like the kitchen staff actually cared about preparing the meal. The prices were right, too. We were in fantasy heaven. After breakfast we got a butterbeer that was simply delicious—the frozen one is the move. After the butterbeer and more focused exploration, we stood in line for “Olivander’s Wand Shop.” (By far the longest wait of any attraction.)
We entered an anteroom designed to look like shelves upon shelves of wands. The level of detail in the shop was extraordinary. It felt magical. Our guide opened a “secret” door and ushered us in to meet the Wandmaker. Out of over a dozen children, my daughter was picked by the Wandmaker to see which wand would choose her.
The choosing ceremony is a wonderful piece of theater.
Gorgeous sound and lighting effects enhanced the already magical mood. My daughter handled three different wands until a holly and unicorn hair wand “chose” her. When wand and child were united, this beautiful white light shone down. The room was absolutely still. If I were allowed to take pictures, I would have captured my daughter in a state of complete and total joy. My wife and I were near tears. I don’t think we’ve ever seen her in the pocket of bliss. Fifty dollars and one purchased interactive wand later, we exited the shop floating on my daughter’s cloud of happiness.
Looking around the park, every possible ethnicity was in attendance. They also had one of the most diverse staffs I’ve seen anywhere. Aside from the lines of the last few Fast and Furious films, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse pop culture environment.
I looked at the replica of Hogwarts castle, all of the meticulously crafted shop façades, the interactive spell-casting displays, and it hit me just how Eurocentric an environment it was and how there was nothing comparable from any other culture.
I am fully aware of the impact and importance of J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. It is an amazing piece of art, and one of the best fantasy worlds ever created. But remembering the books, they weren’t that diverse no matter the retdiv (retroactive diversity) lens people apply to it.
Full disclosure, I was convinced that Hermione Granger was biracial until I saw the first film. Please read this for a most wonderful exegesis on a racebent Hermione Granger. Fantastic reading.
Not for a minute do I want to detract from or belittle our experience. Hell, we bought annual passes because it was so incredible. What irked me was that so many POC still have to immerse ourselves in Eurocentric environments and Eurocentric mythologies to get our fix of the fantastic.
As a kid, comic books and Greek mythology was the spark, then Norse, then Arthurian legends. I was in my middle teens when I finally got to Caribbean folklore and African mythology.
I am a firm believer that everyone should read and experience everything in fantasy/science fiction/horror. I truly believe this. But seeing my daughter sleeping in her Gryffindor cap and bracelet, her interactive wand and Hogwart’s leather journal nearby, her Elder Wand keychain and Hogwarts snow globe, I felt a slight twinge of guilt.
On this site, I proposed the idea of an African Diaspora pop movement that very few people were willing to engage with. I’d love a Pacific Islander or Native or Arab or any other non-Eurocentric pop movement with as much weight and influence as Potter.
I’m not advocating for one or the other. What I want is for more than just one cultural voice dominating the conversation of the fantastic. I wish my daughter could have a primary source of fantasy that included characters who looked like her, her friends, and her parents. How amazing would it be for children of color to pick up a book, comic, or go to a theme park that centered them and their ideas of awe and wonder?