Bridgerton breaks the mould for diversity in period drama

Bridgerton breaks the mould for diversity in period drama and everyone’s on board

Bridgerton

With more than 63 million views across the world, Netflix’s new series Bridgerton has been making waves. It’s also landing egg on the face of all those critics who said diversity in period drama didn’t work.

Nicola Coughlan, who plays the character of Penelope Featherington, tweeted an announcement today that the series had become Netflix’s fifth biggest original series ever.

“In its first four weeks, Bridgerton is projected to court more than 63 million households, which would make it Netflix’s fifth biggest original series launched to date,” the statement read  on Twitter. 

The 34-year old actress added her own take, writing “You know the way some people were like ‘Diversity in period drama doesn’t work’….63 million households thought it did tho so 💀.”

Coughlan, who is known for her role as Clare Devlin in the British sitcom “Derry Girls”, added in her Tweet, “Remember people were trying to downvote the show on IMDB cos it was so diverse? You can’t downvote us being Netflix fifth biggest original release ever.”

Since its release last month, the show, created by Shonda Rhimes — an American television producer and screenwriter behind huge hits including Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder, has racked up its fair share of criticism from critics who believe the show has a “race problem”.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, here’s a one-line summary. Set in the world of regency London, the show follows the Bridgerton family who are trying to get their children married off. There’s also the story of their rival with another family.

The show is narrated by Julie Andrews, and based on the romance novels by Julia Quinn which is set out like a series of gossip letters. The Netflix adaptation has been described as Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey, or Jane Austen with some Black people.

Period dramas have been known to depict only a very specific group of people (white, middle-upper class, heterosexual) so Shonda Rhimes, along with her protégé, producer Chris Van Dusen, aimed to challenge this convention by practising their version of colourblind casting. 

Last month, Van Dusen explained his idea to base the show in an alternative history where a central character’s mixed race heritage was not just centred but transformative to Black people and other racialised persons in England.

“It made me wonder what that could have looked like,” he told the New York Times. “Could she have used her power to elevate other people of colour in society? Could she have given them titles and lands and dukedoms?”

Critics however are not so convinced. Kathleen Newman-Bremang, a Toronto-based cultural writer said on Refinery29 “…representation won’t save us. Just sprinkling some light-skinned Blackness in there isn’t enough.” 

“Like every other Netflix show, the only Black leads allowed are light-skinned. Their colourism problem is exhausting.”

As James Poniewozik puts it in his review in the New York Times, it might just be “sexy, smart popcorn escapism” and that might just be why so many of us are planting our bums on our couches and devouring this “aspirational fantasy”.

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