Color naming

“Bridgerton” and the problem of color-conscious casting

Season 2 of Bridgerton made its long-awaited return on Friday, and it’s full of Regency-era dresses, society gossip, very-very-stretch stories and a few new faces. This season focused on the second novel in the eight-book series (The viscount who loved me), following Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) as he searches for a “perfect” wife. We’re introduced to plenty of hopefuls, including Lady Mary’s (Shelley Conn) youngest daughter, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), and her Netflix-played older half-sister Kate. Sex education starring Simone Ashley. The family came to London from India for Edwinas’ social debut. The Sharmas are another attempt to diversify the lily-white world of Bridgerton novels, but does it work?

The “color-aware” cast has been a focus of critics and viewers alike since the show debuted on Christmas Day 2020, and that still holds true for season two. The more diverse cast is a welcome change, but I’m afraid it’s interpreted as tickbox inclusion. It’s not a new idea to take a beloved book that’s steeped in whiteness and drench it in diversity for the screen, so I’m slow to give extra points for the cast, especially because all the characters of color always face (or come with) the biggest traumas.

Last season, a pregnant Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) was sold to live with estranged family members who despised her (mostly) in order to settle a debt. We visit her in season 2, and although she and her children (she had twins!) live very well, the price she has had to pay for such comforts has left her unhappy, alone, and stuck. in a loveless marriage of convenience. The Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Régé-Jean Page), grew up with a father who was an abusive monster (to both him and his mother), and this unprocessed trauma follows him into adulthood, where his wife makes him a father. Now, in Season 2, we meet the gorgeous Sharmas and soon learn that their stories are filled with rejection, fear, flight, and death. One could argue that the show simply follows the storylines depicted in the novels and that reimagining these already existing characters as people of color for the screen was just a good move. But then, what is the reasoning for giving black characters created just for the adaptation of heavier scenarios? There are two new characters in particular who are getting this traumatic treatment.

In season 1, we meet Will Mondrich (Martins Imhangbe), an incredible boxer turned businessman. He appeared when the Duke seemed to need therapy or a workout, and later used his boxing skills to become a breadwinner for the white men of the ton. His story expands in the new season as he attempts to open his social club, but his tireless efforts are repeatedly mocked by those same white men. He doesn’t get (part of) their respect until he saves one of them – a Bridgerton – from a shady deal. Why put this character at the constant mercy of whiteness? The same goes for Modiste Geneviève Delacroix, played by Kathryn Drysdale. There’s so much room for depth, even frivolity, in his storyline, but it’s continually used to help advance everyone else’s plot but his own.

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