BRIDGERTON has proven to be one of Netflix’s most popular productions. Its particular combination of history, lifestyles of the rich and famous, and identity politics has captured a significant portion of young Netflix viewers.
What these young viewers actually know about Regency England’s society, economy and politics is uncertain – although ‘not much’ would be a safe bet. Nor can we know how much their understanding of the period was distorted by Bridgerton – but, on this question, “many” would probably be the correct answer.
So what’s so bad about Bridgerton ? Why are these questions about history and its distortion so important?
Frankly, the problem with Bridgerton is that it presents Regency England (1811-1820) as a nation in which racial diversity is evident everywhere. From the poorest strata of society to the heights of the English aristocracy, people of African and Indian descent are an integral part of their respective communities. Unfortunately, this presentation of England’s past is not only wrong, it is also dangerous.
If there had really been black duchesses in Regency England, our current reality would be totally different. In fact, the creative and political impulses behind Bridgertonif absorbed uncritically, must make any meaningful understanding of contemporary racism impossible.
Faced with these criticisms, the creator of Bridgerton Chris Van Dusen, responded that the drama “is a world reimagined, we’re not a history lesson, it’s not a documentary. What we really do with the show is marry the story and fantasy in a way that I find very exciting. One approach we’ve taken to this is our approach to racing.”
Despite Van Dusen’s denials, Bridgerton The narrative of appears to be based on the assumption that “colorblind casting”—the assignment of dramatic roles without reference to the actors’ skin color—produces an entirely positive set of progressive effects.
Colorblind casting means the discriminatory impact of elevating historical accuracy above equal opportunity is overcome. From now on, each role is open to each interpreter. This forces audiences to “look through” an actor’s skin color and instead focus on the quality of their performance. Ideally, the divisive effect of assigning culturally significant “white” roles to people of color also forces audiences to confront and examine their own racist assumptions and expectations.
If an Indian-born actor is cast as Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, or a black actress is cast as Queen Anne Boleyn, and you’re outraged, then what does that say about you? The answer, of course, is that your outrage represents an unmistakable manifestation of deep-rooted racism. Colorblind casting isn’t the problem – you are.
Except that anyone who knows a little about their historical heritage knows very well that no inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent could have had the luck of Dickens’ David Copperfield. England in 1840 just wasn’t that kind of place. They would also know that there was absolutely no way a king of England – even as strong-willed as Henry VIII – was allowed to marry a “Moor”. Casting black actors in these roles is a gross misrepresentation of the past. A distortion undertaken in the misguided hope of improving the racism of the present.
To understand the racism embedded in contemporary European societies and their colonial ramifications, it is necessary to understand the historical conditions that gave rise to the disease. This understanding would be greatly facilitated if the source of the extraordinary wealth exhibited in Bridgerton : large estates and magnificent mansions; sparkling jewelry and ball gowns; the legions of servants; the great crowds of pests; has been accurately described as the fruit of the extraordinary profits of the West Indian sugar islands and the hundreds of thousands of slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to work on the obscenely lucrative plantations of (very white) aristocrats.
The Prince Regent (who gave his name to the Regency period) was, of course, the son of King George III. It was his father who “lost” the thirteen rebel colonies that became the United States of America. It would therefore be useful to produce a Netflix drama series whose main characters would be drawn from both the slave-holding cotton farmers of the southern United States and the cotton mill owners of northern England. How easy it would then be to show how the chattel slavery that made America also made English capitalism. How Uncle Tom’s slave shack and England’s dark satanic mills have always been bound together by unbreakable tendons of tortured human flesh.
Ah, but is such a truthful depiction of the past rate? Do the kind of people who watch Netflix really want to be shown how the horrors of the past have driven shards of misery deep into the cultural soul of the West. A real Bridgerton would explain the desperate need of the peoples of Europe to erase the past. Episode by episode, it would depict the inevitable psychological projection of their worst impulses onto their victims: the relentless construction of the racial ‘other’.
But it would be a Bridgerton too far. And besides, who the hell would watch it?
It is surely no coincidence that Bridgerton The executive producer of is Shonda Rhimes, the guiding intelligence behind this other big hit from Netflix. Invent Anna. Rhimes just “gets” the millennium the spirit of the times. History is what you invent – what you can make people believe. How? ‘Or’ What? As easily as the real Anna Sorokin created the fabulous “Anna Divey”; or, evoking the fantasy of a racially diverse regency. You present a historically virgin generation with “realities” want to believe in.
An incredibly cool German heiress.
A world without racism.