‘Bridgerton’ Still Idealizes Whiteness
I enjoy it but have mixed feelings about the hit Netflix show
Spoiler alert: This essay contains spoilers.
I’ve been into period drama films since I was a kid. Classics like Amadeus and Pride and Prejudice were in hot rotation in my house because they were something we could all enjoy. The sweeping cinematography in European locales fed my creativity and wanderlust. My mom, a sewist, loved the exquisite costumes while my screenwriter dad enjoyed the rich dialogue. They both also liked the way most period dramas affirmed “Christian” virtues like chastity and traditional gender roles. Eventually, I came to realize how much they also virtuized Whiteness.
With its racy sex scenes and soapy subplots, no one would accuse Bridgerton, the richly realized and diversely cast Regency drama streaming on Netflix, of doing the former. But for all the hoopla surrounding its inclusive casting, I’m not convinced it avoids doing the latter.
For the uninitiated, Bridgerton’s main storyline is the first-fake-then-real romance between debutante Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, with Gossip Girl-style narration and side intrigues to keep things spicy. Daphne, the “diamond” of the season’s marriage market, is White and wants kids. Simon is Black and “can’t” have children. (Note the quotation marks. They’re important.)
I came to Bridgerton with high expectations. First, it’s a Shonda Rhimes joint. Also, showrunner Chris Van Dusen was intentional about creating a sort of post-racial Regency era where Black people moved freely within the upper echelons of society — an “excitingly different” way to handle race in a period drama, according to critic Aramide A. Tinubu. “Without an emphasis on race, historical accuracy or the backdrop of slavery, fans can focus on the scandals, costumes, gossip and intrigue at the heart of the series,” Tinubu wrote.
Sadly, this fan couldn’t. I’ll admit to being seduced by the first few episodes, though. Regé-Jean Page as Simon Basset makes me swoon, and I’d invite the formidable and quick-witted Lady Danbury to my ball anytime.