Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

“A Comment on Racial Relations in Society” – TV Review: Bridgerton

Maia Gibbs

The first lockdown had banana bread and “Tiger King”, the second has corset buying and violin covers. As an English student with a healthy obsession with period dramas, I’m very excited about the latter.  

It must be said that Bridgerton was exactly what people needed at this point in time. A TV show where men and women aren’t allowed to touch and it’s not because of a deadly virus? Sign me up. 

It also seemed to fulfil the pleads of more diversity on screen, and a historical piece at that! Seemingly leaving no room for excuses for other casting directors. Although nearly praised by all it has raised some debates around the subject of race in TV. 

There have been critics, about ‘historical accuracy’, as it seems that some people can disband their belief enough to accept that Wildest Dreams is playing but not for a black queen. It doesn’t add up to me either. Nicola Coughlan, who portrays Penelope Featherington on “Bridgerton,” recently shut down said critics who had something to say about the show’s diverse casting. The “Derry Girls” actor wrote on Twitter, “Remember people were trying to downvote the show on IMDB cos it was so diverse? You can’t downvote us being Netflix fifth biggest original release ever.” 

This was in response to the show, in its first four weeks of release having aired to more than 63 million households, making it Netflix’s fifth biggest original series launched to date. Included in those 63 million was every household of my immediate family and any friend I have that’s worth knowing. (I quite like the show if you hadn’t guessed). 

Although some have stated that ‘colour-blind’ casting as not being helpful in commentating on race in media at all. But its creator and showrunner, Chris Van Dusen, argued against the idea that the series exists in a fantastical colour-blind world when speaking with The New York Times. 

“That would imply that colour and race were never considered when colour and race are part of the show,” Van Dusen explained.  

“There’s a difference between showing brown skin onscreen and representing brown people onscreen,” stated Rege-Jean Page (Simon on the show, but we’ll act like we hadn’t already googled that).  

The main reason Bridgerton can’t exist in this ‘colour-blind’ world, is because it expressively displayed that it wasn’t in episode four of the series. The “how” of black nobility is only addressed in “An Affair of Honour“, when Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) expresses the power of love to a Simon, as he’s in the midst of a falling out with his love interest Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor). She says: 

“Look at our queen. Look at our king. Look at their marriage. Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become. We were two separate societies divided by colour, until a king fell in love with one of us. Love, Your Grace, conquers all.” 

This scene appears more of a passing comment to shut up those at home asking questions

Admitting there is a racial line within the history and society of the show does raise questions of why the experience of the black nobility aren’t spoken on more. Indeed commenting on black people’s progression in society, could not harm the show yet offer interesting parallels to modern society. Instead this scene appears more of a passing comment to shut up those at home asking questions. 

Bridgerton could potentially live somewhere in the middle – showing black joy and black love as well as a comment on racial relations in society

It could be said that the default solution for more representation in show business is that a show with Black people has to be a show about race, or a show about racism. Or if it’s going to represent the Black experience, it’s going to be about death and violence. Bridgerton could potentially live somewhere in the middle – showing black joy and black love as well as a comment on racial relations in society. I personally enjoyed seeing black characters with a complex personality, instead of a character whose whole personality is that they are black. As a white woman I understand I’ve always been represented, yet this show helped me realise how poorly others were. 

Maybe one conversation was not enough to explain multiracial casting in a series set in a country with such a painful history surrounding it. And while I agree with much of this, it was refreshing, almost comforting, to not be faced with a litany of reasons for why a whole race of people deserve to be seen on TV. They are there because they deserve to be so. It’s what’s people have been saying for years. Bridgerton just shows us how. 

4 and a half stars

Maia Gibbs

Featured image courtesy of Love Trill via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @bridgertonnetflix via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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