Noma Dumezweni: 'Hermione has taught me how to be angry'

Image source, Rachell Smith

Noma Dumezweni, best known for playing Hermione Granger in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, says women need to learn how to be angry.

The actress, who is one of the BBC's 2018 100 Women, writes about her own experience.

I have learned a lot from playing the character of Hermione on stage in the last few years. Although generally calm and level headed, righteous and empathetic Hermione knows how to use anger effectively when it's needed.

Hermione's anger is a beautiful thing - she displays it most through her loyalty and love, especially when she's in love and trying to understand that. She's asking those she loves to do better. She holds them up to a high standard because she has faith they can reach that. Fiercely. And she'll be there when they do.

I can count three moments of full rage in my nearly half-century of life, all of which left me with deep feelings of shame.

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Image caption,
Noma as Hermione backstage

The first time was prompted by classic insecurity as a child.

Early in high school, I channelled all my anxiety into another girl and yelled at her as others were making fun of us both.

The second time was triggered by the frustration of figuring out my identity as a teenager.

I yelled at my mum - not being able to articulate in any way that was kind why I felt so lost, and blaming her for it.

The memory I have is of banshee-like energy swirling from me as she sat so sad and stunned.

And the final time - this time as an adult - was with my ex.

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Extricating from a 20-year relationship can be so painful and can turn words poisonous.

I see now that these were boiling points - slow-build internalised anger that bubbled over when triggered by a sometimes random moment - the way I perceived a shoulder shrug, a sigh, or laughter.

When one doesn't like oneself much everything seems like an attack, a confirmation of one's thoughts. And because I wasn't grounded in myself, I lashed out. And that's when shame seeped in and took hold.

Like most women of my age, I was brought up not to be angry. I didn't want to be seen as the one taking up space - I was brought up to make others feel comfortable before having my say.

Until recently I didn't understand what form, energy and shape my anger could take. It felt like it came out broken.

Happily, as I get older, I feel a greater sense of clarity about where my anger is rooted. I'm also allowing myself to feel it.

I think there are several reasons for this change.

I feel I've reached a point in my life where I'm finally trusting myself to know what my needs and wants are, and if those aren't met, I trust the anger I feel. It's honest.

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Image caption,
Noma won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress

I also have an 11-year-old daughter. In order to fulfil my role properly as a mother and guide, I try to understand her own moments of anger and help her figure out what she needs.

Feelings are all-encompassing, especially on the way to adolescence! What I hope she learns from me is not to squash them. To let them pass through and understand they are there for a reason.

And I'm a Black African Woman. If you give me that tired, old, dull, unimaginative and frankly disgusting title 'Angry Black Woman', I know you don't know me. I am not a stereotype.

Chances are a black woman sharing her point of view with any sort of emotion can be a challenge for those witnessing it, especially those without the same life experiences.

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What I have learned is that if you suppress your anger through fear or passivity it can and will go on to explode.

The younger generation are making me proud on this front. They're not making excuses for how they're feeling. There is no longer the sense that children should be seen and not heard - that way lies therapy.

When my casting as Hermione in The Cursed Child was announced some people had a problem with it. And there seemed to be an expectation that I'd be angry about the backlash.

But because my sense of self wasn't in jeopardy, and the fact I was supported by those working with me, I could step back and not engage with other people's prejudice.

I could save my anger to use as a powerful and positive force.

What is 100 Women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year and shares their stories.

From Park Soo-yeon, in South Korea, who is leading the charge to stop illegal spy-cams being put in women's toilets, to Shaparak Shajarizadeh, from Iran, who publicly removed her headscarf to oppose the compulsory hijab rule for women, and is now living in exile.

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