The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Growing up, the representation of brown characters on TV I was exposed to were Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb and Ravi from Jessie. Household favorites like Mean Girls fed into stereotypes portraying the white protagonists as beautiful, popular women while the South Asian character was relegated to the role of the dorky mathlete. In both the movies and television shows I watched, I never saw South Asian women or men playing characters who had depth, while telling stories that could inspire.
Instead, these brown characters were used as comedic relief and ridiculed for their culture, appearances and differences. As a brown woman, this was the representation I had, and this narrative stuck with me.
I am a Pakistani and Ecuadorian woman with brown-tan skin, brown eyes and dark features. Now, at 20 years old, I have to thank Bridgerton for exposing me to characters that share the same features as me. In season two, the show introduced the Sharma sisters, Kate and Edwina, portrayed by Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran.
These actresses are both Indian Tamil women who bring light to aspects of their culture through the characters they portray. There are nods to Indian culture scattered throughout the entire season, including the sisters’ last name, specific Indian terms, fabrics, jewelry and even the Haldi ceremony held before Edwina’s wedding day.
Many people, including myself, were particularly thrilled with Kate’s dark-skinned tone. Even in Bollywood movies, it is rare to see someone with darker tan skin. Normally, actresses cast in Bollywood movies have fair skin or have undergone skin lightening treatments, which already decreases the exposure to darker-skinned women in film worldwide. The casting in Bridgerton was monumental because it created a platform for brown women to feel represented, seen and accepted regardless of how fair or tan they are.
Through Bridgerton, South Asian features were finally showcased by lead actresses who were written to be beautiful. I felt that my features were finally being correlated to something I wanted to be associated with — strong, beautiful, independent women.
The Sharma sisters are role models for not just brown girls, but women in general. They are strong-willed and unapologetic in their beliefs. They love passionately while also working hard to do what is best for their families. Oftentimes in movies, the female lead’s storyline is mostly concerned with the love interest. However, in Bridgerton we learn that there is so much more depth to these women.
They worked hard their entire lives to be educated; learning how to play a series of instruments, speaking multiple languages and enjoying literature. Kate’s character even has a passion for horse riding and is skilled at hunting —two hobbies that were considered improper for a woman.
Not only is this a huge moment for brown and female representation, but it is the first time I have ever seen a brown lead in a Regency Era work. Screenplays that take place in this era have a magical feel to them because of the elegance and grandeur of the balls, the clothing and the scenery.
Yet, the thing that is always missing in works that take place during this period of history is diversity and representation. One of my favorite movies of all time is Pride and Prejudice, a popular Regency Era classic. I have rewatched it so many times that I can recite some lines off the top of my head.
My favorite line is when Mr. Darcy professes his love for Elizabeth Bennett. When Anthony Bridgerton professed his love for Kate, he paralleled Darcy’s profession with an equally iconic line, “You are the bane of my existence, and the object of all my desires. Night and Day. I dream of you”.
Watching this scene made younger me scream with excitement because the fairy tale Regency Era love that I had only correlated to white characters finally had diversity. Seeing a brown woman as the love interest in a Regency Era piece will undoubtedly have a positive impact on brown women and help with their confidence and self-image.
This show managed to change the narrative that surrounds South Asian women in entertainment and as a result, women around the world such as myself will feel empowered.