Queens, Dukes, and Duchesses have resurfaced in the all-new Netflix drama Bridgerton. Although a period drama, the TV show brings in a modern twist with its purposeful contemporary appeal. 21st-century subjects are covered, such as a woman’s worth in society and more strikingly, the show’s multiracial cast which although a progressive step forward in the entertainment industry reflects an untrue depiction of 18th-century society. This brings to light questions as to whether this is the new way of tackling 21st-century problems while still allowing us to enjoy the romanticization of period dramas. In earlier periods when society was less progressive, does it make sense to include a multiracial cast?
In The Name of Truth
Period dramas are television shows that are set in a past time full of romance and adventure. Nonetheless, it loosely recreates a time in history, showing viewers today how life and society were like back in a different era. Thus, it might come as no surprise that to maintain historical accuracy, many period dramas use a predominantly white cast. The executive producer of the famous post-Edwardian era drama, Downton Abbey, explains that it was not a multicultural time and it would make no sense to populate the show with different ethnicities. Some go as to say that this need for diversity is 21st century’s “political correctness gone mad”.
Period dramas often glorify historical eras, covering stories of royals and riches. And if you know a thing or two about history, people of color were not spoiled as such. Thus, historically accurate period dramas create controversy as the lack of representation generates fewer jobs for Black, Asian, and ethnic minority actors (BAME). As a result, these actors have less of an opportunity to rise in the entertainment industry, perpetuating the cycle of excluding BAME people. This makes it a 21st-century problem where BAME actors aren’t chosen for the important lead roles. So is it time that these period dramas come to an end? Or is there a way to still enjoy period dramas while still maintaining integrity in the 21st-century showbiz world? A showbiz world that rightfully tackles 21st-century problems of excluding BAME from lead roles?
Bridgerton stirs the pot
As an example, we can turn to Bridgerton to see how this show tackles the problem. Director Shonda Rhimes used color-conscious casting which is an unconventional way of having a more inclusive and diverse cast as opposed to color-blind casting. Color-conscious casting considers the actors’ features such as skin color, body shape, and other specific characteristics. Therefore, this type of casting is known to exclude BAME actors. On the other hand, color-blind casting disregards these features no matter how the characters the actors are portraying would traditionally look. For example, Hamilton’s adoption of color-blind casting is why we see such a diverse cast for a show that’s about the founding fathers of colonial America.
Including POC might not seem realistic for viewers in our real world but this scene makes it more realistic for viewers in the world of Bridgerton.
Shonda Rhimes was conscious of choosing BAME actors for certain lead roles. For example, the queen and the male Duke lead of the show, played by actors Golda Rosheuve and Rege-Jean page were important characters purposefully made to be people of color (POC). For viewers, this might seem unusual as those who know history will know POC weren’t as accepted in high society. However, one scene explains it all where the Duke is in a conversation with another POC lead that explains “we were two separate societies, divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us”. As such, we have a show that still maintains verisimilitude whilst including diversity in a time when there wasn’t. Including POC might not seem realistic for viewers in our real world but this scene makes it more realistic for viewers in the world of Bridgerton.
Is it all good?
Although certain viewers see the diverse cast as a progressive step forward, some have questioned the choices of Shonda Rhimes. The show seamlessly puts in POC without demonstrating a power struggle which some find as a negative. Is it more beneficial to have shows that focus on their struggles? Movements such as Black Lives Matter are working hard for their community to be accepted. So shows like Bridgerton that seamlessly puts POC in society might undermine all the hard work that is happening right now to be in an all-inclusive world. For critiquers, they believe it might be more productive to produce shows from adapted novels that are already inclusive.
Period dramas are enjoyed due to their romanticizing of the past when times were much simpler. And what’s not romanticizing about a world where people of different backgrounds get along? That is why a modern contemporary twist to period dramas such as in Bridgerton might not be an end-all factor for period drama lovers. One fan goes on to say that it is a “breath of fresh air” to have a show that includes a multiracial cast without having to have a full on-screen dialogue as to why they deserve to be accepted into society. There can be a variety of period dramas, realistic and unrealistic, which might or might not be a fan’s preferred choice. Bridgerton is just here to add itself into the mix for those who are open to a modern twist.