Film & TV

The Unravelling Thread of Diversity in Bridgerton

Isabelle Abraham

The thin thread of diversity in Netflix’s popular regency drama, Bridgerton, is unravelling.

The show has generated a significant buzz, especially around diversity in the show. A simple Google search will show that much of the conversation has focused primarily on those who detest the show’s casting choices and how [insert Bridgerton actor] reacts to these naysayers. However, there are viewers like me who seek diversity within the show but remain sceptical about the current representation on screen. 

Halfway through season one, Lady Danbury tells Simon Basset: ‘We were two separate societies, divided by colour, until a king fell in love with one of us…’ This quote highlights the thin thread upon which the acceptance of people of colour in this fictional Regency era hangs and in turn, the thin thread upon which diversity hangs in the casting. She’s suggesting that people of colour have been welcomed into their society because the monarch fell in love with one woman of colour. 

To accept this, we must believe that one interracial union was enough to radically change society’s perception of people of colour in general. Although this is a fictional Regency era, this is difficult to accept and it illustrates how frail the acceptance of non-white people is in the drama. The representation in the show also works against this illusion. 

Simon Basset, Marina Thompson, Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte are the most prominent POC characters. Simon and Queen Charlotte’s characterisation has been praised mostly, but viewers have noted that the show depicts Marina as the pregnant outcast who becomes scheming and villainous towards the end. Moreover, Lady Danbury, while very likeable, has no agency outside of her mother-like care of Simon. Two out of the four main POC characters can be viewed as black stereotypes, Marina as the sexually deviant black woman and Lady Danbury as the ‘Mammy’ stereotype. 

This is disappointing for a show which has been so widely praised for its stance on diversity. Furthermore, the most prominent black characters in the show are light-skinned. In contrast, most of the dark-skinned members of society are situated in the periphery, which evokes the conversation of colourism, not to mention the minimal representation for other POC outside of the black community.

The main issue with these choices is that when a show is advertised as being racially diverse and draws in more audiences as a result, it is integral to follow through adequately.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with Bridgerton. The diversity is fragile and quite surface-level, and the problem is only amplified when you consider that this show is on Netflix, a platform in which representation for people of colour is rarely fulfilling.

Despite the representation issues, I enjoyed watching Bridgerton and understand why it has become so popular. As it has become a widely influential show, it is even more important to view the show through a critical lens. Moving into season two, viewers like myself will be watching to see how the showrunners respond to feedback. Will they take the various critiques into account and improve, or will the thin thread of diversity unravel?

For more perspectives on this topic:

Race- baiting, queer-baiting, colorism, featurism, and performative diversity- Khadija Mbowe

The Black Casting Choices In Bridgerton Were…A Choice- Jessica Pryde