Content warning: this column contains descriptions of sexual violence.
“Bridgerton” is the newest show on everyone’s binge list and social media feeds. Based on an eight-book series written by Julia Quinn, the Regency-era drama follows the triumphs, scandals and everyday life of a ton of Lords and Ladies. Specifically, Simon Bassett the Duke of Hastings and his soon to be Duchess, Daphne Bridgerton. The rest of the cast includes the illustrious Queen Charlotte, her husband King George III and the rest of the Bridgerton children
A recurring criticism regarding “Bridgerton” is that the show is color-blind. Some, like Popsugar writer Ralinda Watts, think the writers do not do Black, characters justice.
Related: [Read more Black Voices coverage here]
I understand the basis of this criticism and can see its merit, however, I don’t totally agree.
In a piece written by Taylor Harmon, she discusses the way race was mishandled in the show, specifically regarding an episode in which Regé-Jean Page’s characters, the Duke and Dutchess, have a non-consensual sexual encounter with his wife, Daphne Bridgerton.
Harmon notes how Simon, a Black man, was not only left unsupported after he was raped, he was also treated as the villain of that situation due to a prior miscommunication. Because Daphne thought Simon lied to her about his fertility, or lack thereof, the show seems to justify her taking matters into her own hands
A Black character was violated by a white character and it was never addressed again, except for a short scene in which Simon tells Daphne he can no longer trust her. She retorts with a similar sentiment, though he wasn’t the one to trap her into a non-consensual impregnation.
My disagreements with the race criticism presented by Watts stem from the idea that the post-racial society is a bad thing. She argues the color-conscious casting doesn’t translate to the show. In “Bridgerton,” Black characters are treated as equals to white characters and some are even in higher social positions in the Regency, though this is historically inaccurate.
The effect of racial politics is discussed many times throughout. Most of the discussion comes in flashbacks to Simon’s childhood and his conversations with Adjoa Andoh’s character Lady Danbury, his childhood caretaker – which Andoh discusses at length.
The show does not perfectly reflect real-world history. Therefore, I don’t take issue with the characters in the show not being treated differently because of the color of their skin. In fact, I welcome it.
I am tired of seeing stories where white characters get to have “normal” challenges, and Black characters are only challenged by what they can’t control: their skin and their heritage.
Had “Bridgerton” been more historically accurate on the subject of race, its Black characters would likely have been stereotypes.
Though the show does portray a post-racial society, it does not sacrifice its characters’ Blackness. One easily missed detail is when Black female characters are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they wear hair scarves to protect their natural hair. Black characters don’t often get to wear their natural hair in television and movies or care for it the way Black people do in real life.
The prospect of having a popular show on Netflix that showcases a post-racial society, while not simply painting characters with a brown paintbrush, gives me hope that at least some portion of our society desires this outside of television shows.
“Bridgerton” has room to grow regarding its BIPOC characters, and I look forward to seeing how the writing team adapts the rest of the books with color-consciousness in mind.