R E V I E W – S E R I E S
Bridgerton, a highly awaited period piece that is the first ever collaboration with Shonda Rhimes & Netflix, was sure to catch the attention of all the romance lovers, for it promised to deliver all the pretty sparkle of the Pride & Prejudice with a twist.
The twist was that Bridgerton had imparted on a nontraditional casting practice, where the casting was done with no consideration for the actor’s race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Which effectively meant, the characters that were White in the book series were cast by actors who weren’t, most notably the character of Simon Basset (played by Regé-Jean Page), the male lead.
This set the precedent on how the show would handle race in its equation, if they would. For a good while, it seemed as if Bridgerton were taking the approach of a utopia without addressing race or racism at once.
It was shown in the very first appearance of Simon Basset in a ball where the crowd turned and gasped, not because he was a Black man in the middle of a predominantly White event, but because he was the handsome Duke of Hastings. Similarly, when Anthony, the Viscount Bridgerton, the very brother of the female lead Daphne (Played by Phoebe Dynevor) encountered Simon, he proclaimed about their wild times in Oxford, even though the first Black person to matriculate at Oxford was Christian Cole in 1873. So, it seemed as if the world of Bridgerton were as sparkly as its trailer suggested, where a Black man could get through the confines of segregation in Oxford in 1813, decades before Cole was even born.
After all, despite Netflix’s problematic track record, Shonda Rhimes, who successfully addressed race in a nuanced way in Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal & How to Get Away With Murder — cannot mess it up in Bridgerton, right?
Was race addressed in Bridgerton? Yes.
But was it done in a nuanced way? Not really.
Despite the Netflix series’ refusal to address the ‘R’ word properly, it seemed as if the characters in the drama were aware of it.
As said by Lady Danbury to Simon, “We were two separate societies divided by colour until a king fell in love with one of us,” to allude to the fact that their leading monarch is actually a Black woman.
It seemed as if Queen Charlotte weren’t just a product of love between two people in a society with no prejudice, but an interracial coupling that was put through the trials of racism and that succeeds in eradicating racism all together in the show world. Their love really conquered all. But should it have? If racism was so dimensional as to be conquered by a high profile interracial relationship, we would not be having the conversations about it till today. There is also an air of gratefulness to Lady Danbury’s tone. Lady Danbury, who is another one of the Black cast, seemingly only exists to appear to Simon in his times of need, offering witty advice and nothing else about her life, motivations and goals.
She insists in the same conversation to the Duke, “Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become.”
She says in not so many words, that they escaped the cruelty of racism because the King deemed Charlotte good enough to fall in love — perpetuating that perhaps they could not have broken the shackles of segregation if the King, a White man did not grant them all favours and fallen in love with Charlotte.
There is also the deliberate choice to cast light-skinned actors to play the titular roles such as Duke of Hastings, Queen Charlotte & Marina Thompson, whereas dark skinned characters such as Lady Danbury and Late Duke of Hastings, who are often cast aside in a secondary and in the case of latter villainous roles. The late Duke of Hastings, who is Simon’s callous father, is put in a harsher light wherein he becomes enamoured by his newfound status, only to demand perfection of his wife and son to the point it becomes abusive. It was not a commentary on how his status as a nobility in a racist Britain was his undoing, but it was a straight cut fact that he was the main villain in Simon, a lighter skinned man’s story.
It is also the shoulders of Black women that bear most of the show’s tragedy and misfortune. For example, Marina Thompson, who is an enigmatic Featherington cousin, who is discovered to be pregnant out of wedlock and thoroughly put through many trials and tribulations before the society. Her story ends with the news of her beloved, Sir George’s death and subsequent forced marriage to his brother Sir Phillip. Similarly, all majestic Queen Charlotte has to endure her husband, King George III, as he succumbs to a mysterious illness and forgets the death of their child. While their white counterparts manage to remain relatively unscathed.
It is clear that Bridgerton is dedicated to diversifying its cast to fit the perspective of the multicultural world that is today. It was even brave of it, to introduce storylines of Black characters that are not the confines of slavery as it was in that era.
However, between introducing characters that exist in the fictional world of Bridgerton outside of race, and actually propagating multidimensional characters with their own motivations and who are not the scapegoat for the show’s tragedy quota — is very different. Let’s hope future seasons can do these characters justice.
Raya likes to critically analyse anything regarding pop culture, and when she’s not doing that, she likes to live life dangerously — one House MD episode at a time.