Bridgerton, released in December of 2020, is a popular television series on Netflix created by Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rimes. The show is based on Julia Quinn’s novel series which depicts the Regency-era in London during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The show follows the many romances and dramas of London’s elite and is narrated by an unnamed writer who shares the town’s latest gossip in her weekly column. The series caught the attention of many viewers not only for the dramatic plot line, but for the inclusive and diverse cast, which is uncommon among many historical dramas. Although the series certainly grabs viewers’ attention and has quickly made its way to being one of Netflix’s most viewed shows, it has been met with much criticism about what seems to be a colorblind cast.
Although Bridgeton creators may have had good intentions by selecting a colorblind cast to incorporate more diverse actors on screen, the use of colorblind casting ultimately does more harm than good. That is because the show does not take the actor’s race into account in their writing, and ultimately places people of color in a role that does not represent their culture or heritage at all.
While watching the series myself, I enjoyed seeing a diverse group of actors depicting historic roles that I have rarely seen people of color in. I found myself wishing that the casting of Bridgeton was historically accurate even though I knew that it was not. I wanted to believe that people of color were in high society during this time period, however I know that is unfortunately not the reality that we live in. After finishing the show and reading more about colorblind casting and the effects it can have, I learned that Bridgerton is not as progressive as I originally believed it to be.
The show features many Black actors who take on roles that represent England’s elite society. Those of which include Golda Rosheuvel, who portrays Queen Charlotte of England, Regé-Jean Page, as the Duke of Hastings, Adjoa Andoh, as Lady Danbury, and many others. In season two, the series features Simone Ashley, a British-Indian actress, as the newest lead female role, Kate Sharma. Bridgerton has opened doors for many actors of color to play characters that represent power and respect rather than stereotypical roles in historic pieces. However, even with a diverse cast, Bridgerton fails to acknowledge race throughout the show.
There are some historical television pieces that focus on conveying history as accurately as possible. Consider Downton Abbey, which featured an almost entirely white cast to portray the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in the early 1900’s. The series was not diverse in its cast and argued that if people of color would have been more integrated within the show, it would have been less believable for viewers. There are also time pieces that do not care to demonstrate a historically accurate picture and are more focused on unfolding the events of a dramatic plot. It is known that Bridgerton is more focused on producing drama rather than historical accuracy. However, if Bridgerton was trying to make a statement by utilizing a diverse cast, it should have highlighted the cast’s diversity throughout the show instead of completely disregarding it.
There was only one time throughout the television series that race was mentioned. It was during a conversation between the Duke of Hastings and Lady Danbury in the first season. The conversation between the two Black actors implied the idea that although they come from different backgrounds as those who surround them, love conquers all. The topic of race was never addressed again outside of these two actors, implying that racial issues are only important to people of color. Bridgerton creators had the ability introduce thought provoking and progressive ideas about race during this scene without taking away from the overall plot of the story. However, they instead implied that love could abolish all instances of prejudice to the point where racism simply would not exist. That is why I believe that Bridgerton highlights a colorblind society which is an extension of racism in itself.
One of the largest issues with colorblind casting is that it removes race entirely. With race removed from the equation, there are far fewer roles that highlight the history and cultures of people of color. In an article for the Atlantic, John Boyega, who is an actor of color in the film “Star Wars: The Force Awakes,” told the interviewer that colorblind casting is not something that producers should focus on.
“Colorblind casting might land a few promising actors prestigious roles, but it isn’t a sustainable strategy,” he said. “It neither addresses the systemic problems that exist behind the camera, nor does it compel Hollywood to tell more racially aware stories.”
Colorblind casting does not compel Hollywood to create more racially aware stories because they are “getting away with” using a diverse cast to tell historically white stories. Placing people of color in roles that are typically played by white actors is not enough in today’s society to create an impactful change.
Instead of using a colorblind cast, television and film producers should start to write narratives that are inclusive to people of color. There should be equal opportunities for actors of color to be cast in as many roles as white actors. Bridgerton had the potential to be influential within the television industry if they would have woven in conversations about race into the narrative that provoked thought within the audience.
One way the scene between the Duke of Hastings and Lady Danbury could have been more impactful is if the conversion was about the hardships they have had to face in order to get to the position that they are in, and that no matter what the color of their skin is, they are worthy of love and respect. If small conversations like these were woven into the series between not only people of color but white actors as well, the show could have been inspiring to people all over the world who do not feel that they are valued enough in tv and film productions.
In conclusion, using a colorblind cast to portray the image of diversity is not enough. Screenwriters, producers, and directors should create narratives that involve people of color and not ignore reality by creating colorblind societies. If writers want to use a diverse cast in their production, they should create diverse narratives instead of single-sided ones. Unlike what was seen in Bridgerton, writers should involve the topic of race into conversations between people of color and white actors on screen. This is an issue that cannot be solved over night, but I believe that if people begin to finally understand that colorblindness does more harm than good, society as a whole and television production can begin to change for the better.
I leave you with one question,
If people of color’s history are glossed over and erased, who’s story will end up being told?
Mackenzie Bradford studied communication at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She lives in Nashville, TN and specializes in digital marketing and content creation. Mackenzie has experience as a marketing intern in both Nashville and in Chattanooga. She hopes to one day start her own digital marketing agency in Nashville.
- Colorblind Casting in Bridgerton – by Mackenzie Bradford - April 4, 2022