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Netflix’s Bridgerton, a lavish historical romance series produced by Shonda Rhimes, has become a hot topic of conversation for its approach to race. The show, based on Julia Quinn’s novels and led by showrunner Chris Van Dusen, has received praise and criticism for its diverse casting and its handling of racial issues.

Since its debut, Bridgerton has garnered significant attention, quickly becoming one of Netflix’s most-viewed original series. Initially, critics lauded the show for its “feminist undertones” and entertaining escapism. However, as viewers and critics have had more time to digest the series, its portrayal of race has sparked a more nuanced debate.

Bridgerton’s Approach to Race: Fantasy or Historical Reality?

Bridgerton is set in a quasi-historical universe where race is seemingly a non-issue. This setting allows Black characters to occupy prominent roles without the burden of historical racism. For example, the character of Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel, is depicted as Black, aligning with some historical theories about her real-life counterpart. However, this depiction has been criticized for its inconsistency and lack of depth.

Critics like Carolyn Hinds have pointed out that the show often ignores the racial identities of its characters. “The characters’ race is practically ignored for almost the entire show,” Hinds noted. “Consciously or not, Van Dusen’s creative team gave almost all of the Black characters with speaking lines negative attributes and beliefs that place them at odds with the white main characters.”

The Fantasy of Colorblind Casting

Regé-Jean Page, who plays the show’s romantic lead, Simon, has praised Bridgerton’s color-conscious casting, stating it allows for Black joy and humanity to be showcased without focusing on trauma. However, this approach has its drawbacks. The show fails to develop its Black characters fully, often using them as props to further the narratives of white characters.

Escapism vs. Reality

Some argue that Bridgerton’s escapism does not necessitate historical accuracy. McKenzie Jean-Philippe of O magazine suggested that historical accuracy shouldn’t matter in a fantasy, and the show provides a refreshing break from exhaustive discussions about race. Sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom agrees, noting that historical fiction can be tricky when race is considered in storytelling, making escapist historical fiction challenging.

On the other hand, critics like Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post believe that Bridgerton’s alternate history fails to address race meaningfully. The show’s attempt to blend historical elements with fantasy results in a superficial acknowledgment of systemic racism, undermining its potential for serious commentary.

The Future of Bridgerton

Bridgerton’s handling of race highlights the complexities of creating historical fiction that balances escapism with social consciousness. As the series progresses, it faces the challenge of deepening its portrayal of Black characters while maintaining its romantic, fantasy appeal.

Whether Bridgerton succeeds in this balancing act remains to be seen. For now, it serves as a fascinating case study in the evolving conversation about representation in media and the ways historical narratives can be reimagined.

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