With a Harry Potter–inspired web series, a determined creator makes her mark.
As a young black woman from the South Side of Chicago, Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael knows what it’s like on the outside of an industry that’s just now making room for creative visions that aren’t white, straight and male.
After studying film, she worked in production offices while directing and producing independent shorts. “I worked so hard to be at the bottom of the list,” she jokes.
One day, Yisrael recalls, “All of the frustrations of feeling stuck hit at the same time.” So she decided to just make herself a place on the inside — with a little help from Hermione Granger. She’d been reading fan fiction about her favorite Harry Potter character. “And I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do something for myself. I’m gonna have fun again, and do a web series about Hermione.’”
The result was Hermione Granger and the Quarter-Life Crisis, aka HGQLC. In the 10-episode fan-fiction series — which Yisrael lightly calls an adaptation — the brightest witch of her age faces the daunting task of figuring out who she is and what she wants. It’s available at hgqlc.com and on social media.
As in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hermione is played by a black actress, in this case Ashley Romans (Shameless). Yisrael strongly identified with Hermione but didn’t think of her as black until she saw some depictions in fan art. She related to Hermione’s love of books and need to be the best, and also “that passion of knowing that your otherness makes you have to work harder.”
Black people, Yisrael says, are used to unconsciously “finding ourselves in [characters] that have nothing in common with us, except for actual personality traits. You just sort of do it, because there’s nothing really else to have. When we think about representation, that’s something that’s missing from the conversation.”
Having apparated (teleported) from England to Los Angeles, Hermione reconnects with fellow Hogwarts alums and her non-magical cousin LaQuita Granger (Tamara French). It’s a bit like a magic-infused Melrose Place, but Yisrael also works in some surreal, non-linear storytelling that recalls modern series as diverse as Issa Rae’s Insecure and Noah Hawley’s Legion.
She created the smart, ambitious LaQuita in part to represent an idea she holds dear. “I feel really proud of African-American naming conventions,” Yisrael says. “Linguistically, there are certain sounds and letters that we like as a people,” such as the letter Q. She wanted to put that in the Harry Potter world. “You can have a Susie or a Molly, but you can have a LaQuita too.”
The series scored Yisrael both a manager and a job directing the pilot of a web comedy series.
HGQLC also drew the attention of fellow Potter fan Tomi Adeyemi, best-selling author of the Africa-centric, magic-themed young adult novel Children of Blood and Bone, the first of a planned trilogy slated for the screen. Reflecting the ambition and confidence of her magical hero, Yisrael says with a grin, “I want to direct one of those movies so bad!”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019