Bridgerton is one of the most talked-about TV shows and that's mainly due to the diversity of the cast. Picture: Netflix
Bridgerton is one of the most talked-about TV shows and that's mainly due to the diversity of the cast. Picture: Netflix

This race debate over ’Bridgerton’ is Much Ado About Nothing

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Jan 6, 2021

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It took me just over five days to watch Netflix's latest original, Bridgerton. It’s a binge-able soapie drama that has some good moments and other moments that make you cringe. It’s not the finest TV ever made, but it’s watchable.

Bridgerton is the first production from Shonda Rhimes's Shondaland Studios and is part of her groundbreaking deal with Netflix which is worth $150-million (about R2.2 -billion).

Bridgerton is one of the most talked-about TV shows and that's mainly due to the diversity of the cast.

Set in 19th-century Regency-era England, all the Lords, Viscounts, Barons and Right Honourables have decamped to London for the annual débutante season. The show kicks off with a ball, where young ladies of high society, who have been brought up to be married off, are presented to the Queen.

Queen Charlotte then chooses the débutante she most believes will be the most popular of the season and naturally all the high-born mothers and their daughters immediately hate her, while their sons dream of having her as their wife. All this happens while certain high-born gentlemen are meddling about in London's underbelly.

Several people have been throwing their toys out of the cot about the number of black people on the show. Accusations have been levelled at the creators, Netflix and Shonda Rhimes for having too many black characters when there supposedly weren't any high-born black people in Regency-era England. And therefore that makes the show “inaccurate”.

Why do people find it so uncomfortable that black people could have been the ruling class in that era? What is so hurtful about it, that people would want to refuse to watch the show because of these “historical inaccuracies”? It has been baffling to see people sharing their shock at how there are black people who are part of le bon ton, instead of, oh I don’t know, slaves? Because of course, that’s the only thing black people can ever be on period dramas that are fictional – subservient to Europeans.

Have people forgotten that Bridgerton is a fictional soap opera-style drama that is based on Julia Quinn’s books of the same name?

If we are going to apply the historical inaccuracies label to the show, then we need to be honest about everything that is ‘historically inaccurate’ about Bridgerton.

I find it odd that these are the same people who had no problem with Arianna Grande's Thank You Next being played by a string quartet at the first ball in the pilot episode. I mean, was Arianna Grande alive 300 years ago? Oh and what about Girls Like You by Maroon 5, In My Blood by Shawn Mendes, Bad Guy by Billie Eilish and Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift? All these songs were featured on the show.

Have we become a generation that is so quick to be outraged, that we can't suspend reality for a few hours and actually enjoy a show where people of all races treat each other with respect and genuinely like each other, even with the competition of who is wealthier than whom? Have we become so jaded by life that even fictionalised content has to be a political statement?

But since people want to make a perfectly fun series about politics and race, let me show you just how much of the topic was nodded to on the show.

Historians have written over the years how Queen Charlotte, who is portrayed by Golda Rosheuvel on the show, was a descendent of black people. Married to King George, both in real life and on the show, Queen Charlotte is believed to be the first British Royal of colour. She was born on May 19, 1744.

Historians have written that Charlotte is a direct descent of a black branch of the Portuguese royal family: Alfonso III and his mistress, Ouruana, who was a Black Moor.

She married King George within six hours of meeting him. It was noted that her hair was piled high in brown, Afro-textured ringlets and the nape of her neck was a light brown.

A few centuries later, Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry also on May 19, 2018. It's not lost on us that she would have chosen that date on purpose – paying homage to another woman of colour joining the British Royal family.

One of the things the late Duke of Hastings (Richard Pepple) is afraid of is not being able to sire an heir because then his dukedom would be taken away. Or rather, die with him. It is a position he takes very seriously and he was relieved when his wife, Sarah, finally gives him a son. She dies in childbirth and he ends up not having a relationship with his son, Simon – who grows up to be the series's leading man, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) – due to him having a stutter.

He is obviously one of the black people that came up the ranks when Queen Charlotte became queen. The show writes in a subtle way of what Charlotte means to the black aristocrats, and how her being married to the monarch meant it was finally an opportunity for black people to also ascend the social ladder.

Lady Danbury, played by British-Ghanian actress Adjoa Andoh, is one of the most revered doyennes of society and a personal friend of the Queen. And she is a black woman. She, like Queen Charlotte, wields her influence over high society and the women all want to be invited to her parties – both public and private. She is also the mother figure of Simon. In the fourth episode, she addresses the subject of race, while reminding Simon of his duty.

“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.”

There are reports of there being black aristocrats in Regency-era England, therefore having these characters on the show should not make people clutch their pearls and see the need for smelling salts purely because there are high-ranking black people in a fictional drama series.

My main gripe with Bridgerton is the Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) storyline and how it wasn’t fully explored. It was a secondary plot that just didn’t fit as well as they thought it would and it did the show a disservice. It could have been the perfect plot point for the upcoming season, as then it would take the story a bit forward, especially now we know who Lady Whistledown is. I do hope they will give it proper attention instead of it being filler cannon.

Bridgerton is streaming on Netflix.

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