Why I felt a type of way about the portrayal of Black Britishness in Bridgerton
Call me biased but as far as I am concerned, Shonda Rhimes never misses, and on hearing that “Shondaland” was responsible for the direction of a historical post Georgian/ Regency era Gossip Girl, narrated by the one and only Julie Andrews, I was all in. Over the last week, Bridgerton has been trending across social media and I can see that everybody has different outtakes. Bridgerton is based on a book by Julie Quinn and follows the lives of two families and their children in Regency London who are on the quest for love. It is somewhat a representation of Black aristocracy in the Post Georgian era and at face value it is great. However, I can’t help but question why this, is because throughout the show the characters fall subject to cliché.
Firstly, I would like to say that the representation in the show deserves commendation. We are introduced to Queen Charlotte, black and poised in all of her majesty. She exudes a class and nobility that is no different to that of the Queen in The Crown. In Julie Quinn’s novel, Queen Charlotte wasn’t a character. Therefore it can be insinuated that her character was included in Shondaland’s adaptation to mimic the real Queen Charlotte, King George III’s actual wife who was believed to be of mixed-race descent.
We get the pleasure of knowing Lady Danbury, a socialite and highly respectable woman who the viewers can see stepped in and acted as a mother figure to the Duke when he was disowned by his emotionally abusive and negligent father due to his speech impediment. Danbury’s role was very endearing at first but then I couldn’t help but feel that she fits right into the “single mother” trope, despite her “rich aunty” aesthetic.
There is then the infamous Duke - in my eyes the star of the show - played by Rege Jean Page, who ends up being the protagonist, Daphne’s lover. As viewers were invited into the heart of Daphne and the Duke’s bedroom, we were able to see how his alive, yet absentee father caused him to have daddy issues that affected his sexual life and then in turn his relationship.
Heading over to the Featherington family, we are introduced to Lady Featherington, her three daughters and her niece Marina. The Featherington family structure aligns very much with that of Cinderella and her three stepsisters. This time our Cinderella is played by Ruby Barker, but she doesn’t get a glass slipper and marry her Prince at the end. Lady Featherington is also no fairy Godmother. Instead Marina is surprised with a teenage pregnancy by a man who can’t be there for her physically or emotionally.
Whilst all these characters have novelty, they are connected by being black - and that is inevitable when you have black people in white spaces. Although black Georgians and Moors very much existed in Regency Britain, how were they represented in this show?
One side of me feels like there was no right or wrong way to represent them as we rarely hear of black royalty outside of pan Africanism. Yet another side of me feels like they were still highlighted in a stereotypical manner, with absentee fathers, teenage pregnancy and single motherhood. I am not saying that only black people go through this I just feel there was no need to portray blackness in this way.
I want to take Bridgerton for what it should be and what it is to most, which is “a lighthearted regency era romance”, but once blackness is involved, it becomes political and unfortunately for me Bridgerton perpetuates this. What do you think?
Written by Lucy Gborie