By Sabrine Mahmoud, BA History
Bridgerton, Netflix’s new show which has reportedly hooked 63 million viewers, is a period-drama set in the Regency era in England. We watch the London elite as they prepare their young for “the season” – a time in which courtships would occur in the hunt for a suitable marriage. It shows people of colour as British aristocrats; a unique take on the presentation and casting of race.
At first glance, Bridgerton seems racially inclusive, with Black characters occupying positions at all levels of society, from aristocrats to boxers. This is a new take on period-dramas which are almost exclusively white-casted for historical accuracy. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the majority of people of colour in a leading role were light-skinned, thus denying the much-needed space for darker-skin characters and representation. Even more troubling is that many of the black characters were problematic in some way, coming in the forms of abusive characters, selfish ones or merely just outright cruel.
It is also somewhat unsettling to see people of colour socialising with those who would have been their oppressors when the show is set in the early 1800’s. This was a time in which the characters would be living off the profits of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as a time in which people of colour were primarily seen in domestic work, in sharp contrast to the higher social stratus they take up in Bridgerton.
“We were two separate societies divided by colour, until a King fell in love with one of us. Love, your Grace, conquers all.”
The show is initially marketed as colour-blind casting, however half-way Lady Danbury, a Black woman, explains that society was racially split before the black Queen Charlotte married a white King: ‘We were two separate societies divided by colour until a King fell in love with one of us.’ The issue with Bridgerton is the false idea it presents of a post-racial society. It oversimplifies racism, suggesting one interracial royal marriage would be enough to solve the discrimination at the time. Representation doesn’t solve racism on its own – albeit important, race must be addressed with care, which Bridgerton fails to adequately do. Race is not referred to in any other meaningful way, and the storyline glosses over the extremely complex nature of race relations in society at the time.
‘Love, your Grace, conquers all’ – Lady Danbury’s words sum up the portrayal the show gives of the solution to race. If only love could indeed conquer all.
Photo caption: Bridgerton’s Lady Danbury (Credit: Netflix).