When I first saw the cast of ‘Bridgerton’, I was SO excited. For the longest time, many have maintained that people of colour shouldn’t be cast as high society members in period dramas as it wouldn’t be “historically accurate”, but the number of prominent black characters in ‘Bridgerton’ has offered an amazing rebuttal to this ancient argument. It’s a super fun show that also happens to have many actors that are people of colour playing roles that were previously strictly reserved for white people – what’s there not to love? But – and it’s a BIG but – I couldn’t help but feel massively disappointed with a show that seemed to be so promising.
In episode four, Lady Danbury, played wonderfully by Adjoa Andoh, has a conversation with one of the protagonists, Simon, the Duke of Hastings, about race. She points out to the Duke that the King and Queen are in an interracial relationship, and that “love, Your Grace, conquers all.” Immediately, I felt disappointed. “Is that it?”, I thought. It is frankly the only significant mention of race in the entire eight-episode season, and even calling it ‘significant’ is a reach. Considering the show had already gone three episodes at this point without bringing up the issue of race, I simply assumed that the show had decided to be “colour-blind”, and I was somewhat okay with that. It was a TV adaptation of a fictional book after all, so maybe this was a universe where race was not an issue. But when the subject of race was raised in episode four and then so carelessly dropped for the rest of the season, I felt massively dissatisfied.
Why even bother highlighting that race is an issue in this universe if it isn’t actually going to be a significant aspect in the character’s lives? To be honest, it felt like the diversity I had seen in the cast was merely surface level, a tokenistic gesture. The one significant conversation about race is almost cringe-worthy, as love most certainly does NOT conquer all (let’s think about the royal marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle shall we?). Moreover, this brief discussion of race happens between two black people, excluding white people from the conversation and therebt allowing the white characters to continue living in a colour-blind world. If race is an issue in this fictional world, how did black characters like the Duke of Hastings and Lady Danbury come into power? Questions like this are, frustratingly, never answered. The two protagonists are in an interracial relationship, and from my personal experiences with interracial relationships, I know this comes with its own share of challenges, yet neither Daphne, a white woman, nor Simon, a black man, acknowledge how their racial differences could impact their relationship.
Also, do not even get me started on the blatant colourism at play here. Once again, Netflix seems to think that the only people who can be leads in their shows are either mixed-race people or light-skinned black people. The only dark-skinned characters of note are the boxer Will Mondrich, played by the ridiculously good-looking Martins Imhangbe who did not get nearly enough screen time, and Simon’s father, an extremely horrible man who pretended his own son was dead. The rest are either reduced to servants or have non-speaking roles. I do admire Shonda Rhimes’ decision to have a diverse cast, but the dark-skinned characters are completely marginalised, and the white or light-skinned ones are prioritised, yet again. Unfortunately, this is nothing new when it comes to Netflix and giving people of colour prominent roles in its shows.
To be clear, I’m not asking for a race war here, Netflix – just SOME kind of acknowledgement of race in a world where it is clearly an issue. Without its diverse cast, ‘Bridgerton’ really would not have been anything more than yet another period drama, so to say that ‘Bridgerton’ missed the mark in the way it dealt with racial issues is honestly putting it lightly. Understandably, ‘Bridgerton’ opts for escapism rather than reality, but I sincerely hope Season Two offers us some kind of explanation as to what the significance of race truly is in this universe.
Words By: Hannah Martin
Edited By: Harsheni Maniarasan