Netflix premiered Bridgerton on Christmas Day, 2020. Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland company produced the series. Bridgerton is based on bestselling author Julia Quinn‘s 2015 romance novels of the same name. Like Jane Austen’s novels, Bridgerton takes place during England’s Regency Era. George III, who once reigned over the American colonies, became mentally ill. His son, who would become George IV, ruled as his regent. The Regency Era is known as a time of elegance, luxury, and refinement.
Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) debuts as a marriageable young woman by being presented to Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel). By the end of the eighth, hour-long episode, Daphne is happily married to the handsome, passionate Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page).
Bridgerton has a 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Critics call it “sharp-witted,” “fizzy and fun,” “a hoot,” “glossy, glorious escapism, a jolt of joy and romance,” “handsome, lavish, and appealing,” “sexy,” “a Christmas delicacy,” “brilliant,” and say it offers “a heady cloud of pleasure and true love set in an idealized, more inclusive milieu … few fantasies are more inviting.” “Bridgerton Has Been a Top 10 Show in All but 1 of Netflix’s 190 Countries,” reports The Wrap.
Viewers will immediately note that Bridgerton is different from previous Regency romances. A&E’s 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has long been considered the gold standard. I don’t remember any nudity in that series and very few kisses.
The viewer is all of three minutes into Bridgerton when the first scene of simulated sexual intercourse occurs. Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) is Daphne’s oldest brother. His bare buttocks flex as he penetrates his mistress. She, grunting in ecstasy, is pinned against a tree, in broad daylight, in a pasture. Cows moo behind her. A liveried servant looks on impatiently.
There are naked chests, breasts, and digital stimulation – “Do you like this?” the recipient is asked. A man gives a young woman detailed instructions in masturbation; later, she throws back her head, opens her mouth, and grasps her silky bedsheets in one fist. He asks for a full report of her progress in self-pleasure. Characters say the f-word and the b-word. Simon practices coitus interruptus and mops up spilled bodily fluids. At an orgy, two men have sex with each other. Later, one of the lovers gives a speech about how much courage it takes to be gay. A duchess begins a coy strip tease in front of liveried servants; servants listen in to their masters’ groaning. A man performs cunnilingus on a woman draped over the wooden steps of a spiral staircase. Blood pools between the spread legs of a mother who dies in childbirth. Here’s something I never expected or needed to see in a Regency romance: a close-up of a bloodied menstrual cloth.
While watching the sex scenes, I wondered if Regé-Jean Page eats nothing but skinless chicken breasts and egg white omelets. He is as toned, defined, and fat-free as a gay porn model. Dynevor, as Daphne, writhes above Page. Each one of Dynevor’s abdominal muscles moves with the power and sleekness of a snake progressing leglessly across sand. Does she do Pilates? I didn’t feel arousal or involvement. “Muscles, beauty and gratuitous sex do not chemistry create. Personality is sexy. Originality is sexy,” protests one of the most popular reviews of Bridgerton at the International Movie Database. Another reviewer dismissed Bridgerton as “Lightweight lowbrow trash … the sheer quantity of gratuitous soft porn sex scenes … maybe works in a certain segment of the market, but I doubt that it will please a more discerning audience.”
Bridgerton did wring honest tears from me in one, very brief scene. Queen Charlotte is summoned to dine with her husband, King George. The pain of having a loved spouse who has gone mad is evident on her pensive face. At first George converses lucidly, but he asks Charlotte about their daughter, Amelia. In real life, George was disconsolate after Amelia died of TB and erysipelas at age 27. In the TV series, Charlotte reminds George that their beloved daughter is dead. George flies into an incoherent rage. It’s a heartbreaking scene.
There are gowns and cravats, squeaky boots and lorgnettes, horses and carriages, gooseberry pie, suckling pigs, and lady fingers – the cookies, I mean. Interiors feature gilded wallpaper, ceiling frescoes, chaise-lounges, Persian carpets, and marble statues. I paused one scene just to drink in window treatments and paint colors. Online discussion records viewers’ obsession with sumptuous period detail. One protested anachronistic “riding boots with zips and snaps!” Another protested “what is definitely the cheap, plastic, four-hole buttons you can get on sale at Jo-Ann’s Fabric stores!” Another was “bothered by the white icing on the wedding cake and the white dress. As they should very well know white dresses were only really brought into fashion by queen Victoria” – and the cake icing should have been marzipan, not buttercream.
Bridgerton hands the car keys to women and never asks for them back. Females and their needs drive the plot and dominate screen time. Queen Charlotte, not King George, is the most important monarch. Lady Whistledown, a female gossip columnist, is the puppeteer controlling all of “the ton,” that is, London high society. Who just got engaged? Married? Pregnant? How can we meddle and scheme to fix or sabotage our friends or enemies? In endless balls, Daphne lives out female fantasies to be the envy of every girl, and the desire of every man. Men drool, duel, and fight over Daphne.
As in many romance novels, Bridgerton depicts warm, respectful, mutually beneficial relationships between older women and highly desirable young men. Adjoa Andoh (Lady Danbury) is 57. She is Simon’s rescuer and mentor. Lady Bridgerton is played by a 54-year-old actress. Her husband is dead, and she must partner with her handsome eldest son, Anthony, who is a father / husband surrogate.
Bridgerton endows Daphne with superpowers. Nigel Berbrooke, a rotter with dirty hair, baggy eyes, and gray teeth, makes inappropriate advances. Dynevor stands five foot five and weighs 110 pounds. She is 25 but looks 12. She punches Berbrooke, knocking him flat.
There is a controversial marital rape scene in Bridgerton. Simon reluctantly accedes to Daphne’s demand that they wed. He stipulates that he will never father children. She agrees. Daphne climbs on top of him, and, against his wishes, rapes him. As he realizes what is happening, panic flickers in his eyes. He struggles to free himself and she is able to pin him down with a touch of her hand. After it’s over, real pain crosses his face. She climbs down, “Daphne, Daphne, Daphne,” he cries out, first in confusion and then in anger. “What did you do? How could you?” he asks, his face contorted. Daphne sneers at him and launches into a verbal assault, condemning Simon for refusing to impregnate her. Simon pleads for her love. She storms out. And yet all this ends happily. Daphne is Simon’s teacher and savior. She coerces him into both marriage and parenthood, and manipulates him into enjoying both. Quite the message for young, female viewers, presumably the show’s target audience.
The scene from the book: “Looming over him … Daphne felt the strangest, most intoxicating surge of power. He was in her control … He was asleep … drunk, and she could do whatever she wanted … His eyes pinned upon her with a strange, pleading sort of look, and he made a feeble attempt to pull away. Daphne bore down on him with all her might.” Reverse the genders and tell me how that scene plays.
Black and Asian actors play major and minor roles, including Simon, Lady Danbury, and Queen Charlotte. Charlotte’s multiplicity of powdered wings include one with tight, cornrow-style braids, one with dreadlocks, and an Afro.
Colorblind casting and cross-gender acting are not new. Italian-American Espera de Corti and German-American Heinrich von Kleinbach both famously played Native Americans. Charlie Chaplin played a woman and Mary Pickford played a man. Bridgerton, though, is part of an effort to use colorblind casting as an ethical statement and societal corrective.
Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Queen Charlotte, played Othello in 2018. In that staging, Othello was a lesbian. Playing Othello, Rosheuvel said, was “important to me as a black, gay, female actor. Some men have a terrible fear of women, particularly powerful women. They would prefer not to see change, and this Othello is part of change. She is a woman who has power over all these men, all that testosterone. How does she negotiate that? Then she goes further and brings her lover – Desdemona – into that arena. It’s a scary thing to do.” Rosheuvel had previously played Shakespeare’s Mercutio, another male part.
Adjoa Andoh, a woman, has played Shakespeare’s Richard II. Andoh is a reader (a lay preacher) in the Church of England. In a Facebook video, she says, “As in theaters, so in churches.” One can hear this to mean, “What happens in pop culture finds its way to, or becomes, religion.”
Andoh is the mother of a “transgender son.” When her child looks in the mirror and sees “a girl’s body,” “he” knows it is “the wrong image,” Andoh says. “He is, indeed, a boy,” and has been a boy “since earliest childhood.” What makes Andoh so sure that her child is a boy? Her child has always liked football, Spiderman, and constructing “complex Lego transformers.” When she hit puberty, her daughter fell into a deep depression. After watching a documentary entitled “The Boy Who Was Born a Girl” she realized that she is really he. Andoh described the torture her child endured when asked to wear the regulation uniform skirt to a private school. It would be like asking a man to wear a skirt, she protested. Andoh cited institutions that helped her, including the Tavistock Clinic, that has since been mired in controversies and allegations of harming children by rushing them to transition. Keira Bell, a former patient who underwent medical procedures to transition from female to male, has since sued Tavistock.
Andoh bemoans “middle-aged, middle-class, white men’s” domination of culture. She wants more women and POC in the arts. She advocates for this because being a woman is important and being a woman brings a unique contribution. At the same time, she insists that a human being with XX chromosomes, breasts, womb, and ovaries, and no penis or testicles, is not a woman, but a man. Andoh advocates for humanity to become “colorless, classless, tribeless, genderless.” She asks, what if “markers of belonging were meaningless?” Identity, she insists, exists only to fuel the “transactions of capital and global power.” “We have been raised to supply the market” Conversely, when Andoh attended her first meeting of children identified as transgender, she said, “My son has found his people.” And, as mentioned above, she condemns “middle-aged, middle class, white men” dominating the arts.
Andoh is saying contradictory things. Some identities matter, and some don’t; some identities are elevated, and some denigrated. It would be an abusive act to refer to her child as “she.” Asking her child, a student at a private school, to wear a regulation skirt would be as horrific as asking a man to wear a dress. And yet gender identity is fluid and merely a result of capitalism’s brainwashing. We must defy this by crossing gender barriers and becoming “genderless.” Her playing Richard II – and wearing men’s clothes – helped bring about this future golden age.
Her child’s adopted identity as male is all-important. The identity of the “middle-aged white men” who purportedly dominate culture is all-important. Those white men cannot represent women. And yet her daughter can represent men. And yet we are to become so “colorless, classless, tribeless, genderless,” and live in a society where “markers of belonging were meaningless” that Othello can be a lesbian, King Richard can be a woman, and Queen Charlotte can be black. But her son is allowed to have “his people.” Identity doesn’t matter. Identity is all important. Which is it?
Some do claim that the real Queen Charlotte was black. Given the many portraits of her, this seems transparently untrue. Charlotte did not meet her husband, King George, until their wedding day. Even so, their marriage was happy and monogamous, as well as productive; they had fifteen children. King George opposed abolition and during his reign 1.6 million enslaved people were taken from Africa to the English colonies. It’s hard to believe that the loving husband of a black wife would have resisted England’s active and ultimately successful abolitionist movement.
I thought that ahistorical casting might take me out of the story. It didn’t. Regé-Jean Page is handsome and charismatic, with the body of a fencer, a raspy boudoir voice, and a plummy accent. Page fits, as hand in glove, his role of an aloof, aristocratic bachelor, sex god, and cad transformed by Daphne into a Sensitive, New Age Guy. He cast that spell that actors can conjure that suspends your disbelief and gets you lost in a story. It was the ideology behind the casting choices that troubled me.
NPR’s Ailsa Chang interviewed Page. He made clear that Bridgerton wasn’t just about entertainment, but about improving society. Part of that improvement was the introduction of black actors as aristocratic Englishmen; another part was advancing women and lowering men. Page said that Simon is like Clint Eastwood, Mr. Darcy, and Heathcliff. “All these men are hugely emotionally stunted. That is their redemption arc.” That is, they are macho, and a woman comes along and fixes them.
As Page put it, “Where are we at with discussing masculinity? How can I contribute to something of a feminist lens to this? Part of that is bringing in this conversation that we have contemporarily of masculine vulnerability and where the strength in that lies and where the redemption in that lies and where what’s appealing about that in a romantic hero and what we’re looking for in our lovers in the 21st century. I think we’re at a point in history where, generally, people consider themselves to be feminists … I kind of tried to find my lane and do my part.”
Of Bridgerton’s colorblind casting, Page says, “It’s incredibly important that when we are indulging ourselves in these kind of great, big Cinderella fantasies, that everyone gets to see themselves as worthy of status and glamour and love and redemption … where you can see yourself as rich, attractive and admirable is important for absolutely everyone.” Bridgerton, Page said, is “bringing in 21st century perspectives to whatever it is they’re doing and try and kind of, you know, put some vitamins into pop culture.”
So, Bridgerton doesn’t want just to entertain. It wants to improve us as people. It will do so through colorblind casting. All that sex and wealth is not there just to boost Netflix’s ratings. It’s there to preach us a sermon.
My mother was born in a river as her mother took a break from working in the fields. Mom grew up in a rough-hewn house her shepherd father built by hand. After arrival in this country, my mother, one of the smartest human beings I have ever known, like so many of her impoverished Bohunk fellow immigrants, cleaned houses. When I got sick and could not go to school, she took me with her. I saw the difference between the house we lived in and the houses of the rich, the foods, the educations, the available respect. One hundred fifty-five years ago, after the American Emancipation Proclamation, peasants like my family were finally “liberated” from serfdom in czarist Russia.
A quarter of a century ago, a boom in Jane Austen film adaptations began. Back then, I was part of an online film discussion group. My forte were Golden Age Hollywood flicks that featured tough working class girls who clawed their way up through wit and grit. I’d watch anything starring Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, or Irene Dunne. My fellow discussants urged me to watch A&E’s 1995 miniseries Pride and Prejudice. I griped that I had zero interest in watching a bunch of rich, privileged Brits whine about trivialities. My friends told me that the problem wasn’t with Pride and Prejudice; the problem was with me. Art might do what I had not allowed my religion to do: it would expand me, so that I could appreciate a story about persons unlike myself. My friends cited big, literary names like Sir Walter Scott, George Henry Lewes, and Henry James. These authors rejected the idea that Austen was writing about “trivialities,” but, rather, insisted that her artistry was in penetrating the subtleties and consequences of real life as lived by women like herself.
Chastised and competitive, I forced myself to watch Pride and Prejudice, all five and a half hours of it, three times. On the third viewing, I got it. Yes, rich Brits, just like poor Bohunks, also have feelings. Yes, rich people’s heartaches matter. Yes, rich people, just like poor people, can feel trapped in their lives. Watching Pride and Prejudice expanded my ability to feel compassion for persons unlike myself.
A&E’s P&P also expanded my aesthetic ability to appreciate quiet artistry that captures moments of life that I had dismissed as “trivial.” The first time I watched it, I kept waiting for something to happen. I saw no action, no sex, no plot. The Regency England of P&P is one of suppressed emotions and rigid social strictures. Slowly but surely, I came to realize that something as simple as two people’s eyes meeting can have shattering consequences. There’s a scene in P&P that every fan adores. A girl plays piano, a woman mentions the name of a man who hurt the girl’s feelings years before, and Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine, goes to the girl and turns the page of her music book. That doesn’t sound like much, but, to those sensitive to all the implications, it’s a heart-melting scene. It took concentration for me to appreciate the strength, courage, and kindness exhibited by that heroine.
The ability to appreciate quiet art is key to real feminism. Most women do live lives that are more domestic, more internal, and more about feelings. Jane Austen’s focus on the small, the quiet, the quotidian, is truly feminist. Daphne punching and raping men is not.
I still have a chip on my shoulder, and when I watch Regency-Era films, I don’t focus on the buttons or the zippers or the cake icing. I focus on the legions of poor people on whose heads the wealthy characters of these films walk. In scene after scene, the rich inhabit rooms where silent servants stand at attention, staring into space, waiting to fulfill their master’s every whim. Less visible, but no less present, are the farmers working land from which the aristocrats profit. In most films, the African slaves whose bodies provided Regency England with much of its wealth are unmentioned.
Now Bridgerton comes along and fixes all that. The male lead and the queen are both black. This “solution” reminds me of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” We have learned the hard way that those words do not mean what they say. In fact only some black lives matter, that is, the black lives that can be exploited to serve a Marxist, anti-Western narrative. BLM shed zero tears for David Dorn, a veteran black police officer killed by a black looter while Dorn was attempting to shield his friend’s business. BLM demonizes anyone who tries to talk about the astronomical number of blacks shot by young black men.
White supremacy elevates skin color to a virtue. Affirmative Action does the same, thus damaging poor white and Asian college applicants. Any real solution to college accessibility would address all disadvantaged college applicants, not just those with the preferred skin color. Ironically, wealthy and foreign-born blacks are often the ones who benefit from a focus on skin color alone.
Just so, there is no real liberation in Bridgerton‘s colorblind casting. Rich English aristocrats in Bridgerton still live their lives surrounded by poor people who must treat them as godlings. “Her happiness will be your greatest concern,” Daphne is assured about one of her servants. A bored Queen Charlotte watches a contortionist attempting to entertain her by assuming a painful-looking balance on her twisted neck. Another servant mentions something about a scullery maid. Charlotte protests, “I don’t care about a dish wench. I want to be entertained.”
Years ago, my friend Francesca and I were leaving the Paramount theater in Oakland, California after seeing the 1954 Bing Crosby musical White Christmas. Seeing a classic on a big screen in a refurbished art deco theater was heavenly. Francesca was subdued. I asked her what she thought. “There was no one like me onscreen,” she said. She’s black.
I wanted to say, but didn’t, “Francesca, identity politics renders all white people the same. You assume that I look at a goddess like Vera Ellen and see myself. I’m taller than many men and I have the shoulders of a football player. Big, strong girls have never been the heroines, and we never will be. We are the villains, the laughingstocks, the object lessons in how not to be female. There is a tall, big-nosed woman in White Christmas. She’s a meddling housekeeper who sabotages the lead couple’s romance. Has any respectable female lead in a big-budget movie before The Apartment’s Fran Kubelik had a Slavic last name? So, no, Francesca, there’s nobody like me in this movie or many others. But I can still enjoy it. That’s how art works.”
Regé-Jean Page says, “It’s incredibly important that in these Cinderella fantasies, that everyone gets to see themselves as worthy of status and glamour and love and redemption.” That’s hogwash. Bridgerton’s servants are always older or plumper or taller or have larger noses or smaller breasts than Phoebe Dynevor. Dynevor weighs sixty pounds less than the average American woman. The bad guys in Bridgerton are who the bad guys always are in popular entertainment: the ugly people. The bad family in Bridgeton is made up of overweight, big-nosed, tackily-dressed, relatively lower class gingers, that is, redheads. Yes, ginger abuse is a thing, and there are mountains of research that testifies to the price women pay, socially, economically, and emotionally, for being fat. The villain of the series (Nicola Coughlan) is a fat, redheaded girl who destroys her entire family out of a fit of selfish pique. Lord Rutledge (Michael Culkin) is referred to as a “walking spittle factory with very large teeth.” Rutledge is the fattest, oldest, ugliest character in the series. His hair is conspicuously dirty. He’s balding and has wattles. He’s bad. Why is he bad? Because he’s old, fat, and ugly. Really. There is no other character development. His physical unattractiveness is enough to render him a monster.
The desperation of poor whites is every bit as okay to the Woke as it is to those who praise Bridgerton as a liberatory breakthrough. Just so, “Black Lives Matter,” but when black leftist Van Jones said that leftists should act as if poor whites’ lives matter as well, leftists pilloried him for it. There is a scene in Bridgerton that made me wish I could throw a copy of Das Kapital at Shonda Rhimes. Mrs. Featherington takes Marina, played by a black actress, to a slum. Marina is pregnant without a husband and is resisting those husbands that Featherington has chosen for her. The slum visit is a warning. You could end up here. Poor whites slog through a filthy puddle. Rats crawl across the street. Children starve. Ramshackle dwellings sag. That was the reality of life in Regency England: nasty, brutish, and short. Life expectancy was 35 years. Poor people exist in Bridgerton to serve the rich, as servants, and as object lessons of how bad life can be.
What, then is the solution? How can Shonda Rhimes create high-quality Marxist art that will kick the revolution into gear and liberate the masses?
Just as human nature gets in the way of Marxism per se, human nature gets in the way of Marxist art. I don’t want to see a face and body like mine dance with Danny Kaye over a pretend oceanside dock. I want to look at Vera Ellen, a woman so thin it’s falsely rumored that she killed herself with anorexia. I don’t want to see a movie that realistically depicts the life of a cleaning woman. I’ve lived that life. I want to watch pretty people in fabulous clothes acting out my fantasies of romance, wit, and success. I don’t watch narrative films to be lectured by my betters. When peasants gathered in huts across pre-modern Europe, they didn’t tell fairy tales that reflected their limited lives. They told tales of Jack, a poor boy who, through pluck, won a giant’s fortune. Cinderella began in ashes and ended a queen.
Human nature dictates that we crave narrative entertainment through which we vicariously live lives of power, privilege, and superiority. We don’t want to watch Soviet films about collective farmers. We don’t want to watch movies based on Upton Sinclair’s muckraking novel, The Jungle, depicting Polish immigrants being turned into sausage meat in Chicago’s meat-packing plants. Put three strangers in a room and they will determine who is the best looking, the smartest, the fittest, and the richest. Marxism will never rescue us from hierarchies. We want art that allows us to imagine ourselves at the top of the inevitable hierarchy. Bridgerton does nothing to challenge the hierarchy. It just changes the tint of one man at the top. That’s not revolution; that’s not ethics. That’s window-dressing.
Golda Rosheuvel said that casting her as Queen Charlotte was “clever” because “Putting a person of color at the top of the triangle allows you to expand the boundaries.” Not at all, Golda. There have always been powerful people of color. Mobutu Sese Seko, the Duvalier family, the Aztecs, the Incas, Chinese emperors, Indian Brahmins, are just a few. It was African royalty who facilitated the sale of the African poor into slavery – and indeed it was Polish aristocrats who profited from the enserfment of my ancestors.
The “triangle” Rosheuvel refers to is a pyramid structure. Such structures are an unavoidable part of the human condition. Lucinda Elliot claims that 1.5 percent of the British population was gentry; only 300 men, out of a population of nine million, had titles. Bridgerton wants us to care about and identify with its aristocratic leads, and to regard the surrounding servants frozen in obedience as mere wish-fulfillment fantasy. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I had maids to cater to my every whim?”
Art, no less than political movements, that attempts to defeat human nature will always feel didactic and alienating. Rhimes knows this truth and lives this truth. If she really wanted to make Revolutionary art, she could have adapted Longbourn. Jo Baker’s 2014 novel tells P&P from the point of view of the servants. But Rhimes didn’t give her viewers a realistic view of the life of a black person in Regency England. Rhimes gave her viewers a long, hot bath in lust, gluttony, narcissism, greed, and materialism, with no redeeming virtue whatsoever. Watching Bridgerton is the aesthetic equivalent of swallowing a pillowcase full of Halloween sugar. I do not begrudge her or her viewers their wallow. What bugs me is her team’s insistence that sticking Regé-Jean Page, a gorgeous black man, into the lead somehow makes Bridgerton high-minded art. Rhimes, like a calculating Regency debutante, flaunts virtue as just another showpiece for sale.
This version of ethics reminds me of a sorry theater that took place on Facebook after George Floyd’s killing sparked national outrage. A few of my rich, white, liberal Facebook friends suddenly stopped posting about their extensive gardens, their vacation cruises, their award-winning endeavors. “I am so sad for black people! I am so angry at bad, bad, bad white people!” They were lauded for humanitarianism. None of them, as far as I know, posted about actually doing anything to advance any black person. These Facebook posts, and Bridgerton’s colorblind casting, are a way to use a black skin as a badge of virtue, without any personal sacrifice to earn that badge.
Leftists like to bash Gone with the Wind as a Confederate Lost Cause relic. They are partially correct, but Gone with the Wind is also a masterpiece. I couldn’t care less about the Confederacy, and I skim through those passages quickly. My Gone with the Wind tells the gripping tale of a spoiled coquette who, through war, siege, death, and her own clueless self-sabotage, loses everything she loves, and yet learns how to take care of others and bounce back from catastrophe. The only lesson Daphne learns is how to masturbate. The same folks uncomfortable with the affectionate relationship between Scarlett and Mammy are not protesting Bridgerton’s poor white servants who announce that pleasing Daphne is their life’s goal.
Regé-Jean Page says that Bridgerton is feminist. “You are a man therefore you have everything. A woman has nothing!” Eloise whines to her brother. Eloise is meant to be an adolescent girl, but she’s played by a thirty-one-year-old actress with a husky, Tallulah Bankhead voice.
Daphne’s domination of Simon isn’t feminism. It’s merely the photographic negative of features feminists protest in men. Men rape – so Daphne can rape. Men tell women what to do – so Daphne can force a man to be a husband and father, though both are the last thing he wants.
Simon says to Daphne, “I do not want to be alone. I know that now. And what I do not know is how to be the man you need me to be, the man you truly deserve.” Daphne generously instructs Simon in how to be the man she truly deserves. Now put those words into the mouth of a female character who allows herself to be manipulated by a man. The lines would become notorious; some would boycott the program.
1995 saw five major Jane Austen adaptations. This began a stampede, including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. P&P depicts a world where, to have access to sexual contact that produces legitimate heirs, men must pay attention to women, look at and listen to women, and even dance with women. That women flocked to Austen products in the nineties was a slap in the face to the Sexual Revolution. Women were tired of Erica Jong’s “zipless f—s.” They wanted art that conjured a world geared to women’s intimacy needs. The fantasy world of A&E’s P&P, the silent, chaste courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy, met that need.
Bridgerton is less revolutionary than A&E’s P&P. Daphne, the upper class, pretty heroine, is indeed courted chastely. She loses her virginity only on her wedding night, in the sixth episode. Not so for lower class women. There are prostitutes, mistresses, and nude models. They smile while servicing their upper class clients. One could conclude that they chose that life. Marina, the girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock, is treated horribly by Bridgerton. She is miserable, alone, and humiliated again and again. After multiple frustrations, she is forced to marry a man she does not love. She might as well be wearing a scarlet letter. Siena, Anthony’s mistress, is a conniving, heartless nymphomaniac. Bridgerton has as much contempt for loose girls and poor “working girls” as any religious fanatic.
Jane Austen was a Christian. See here, here, and here. Her books are not overtly religious, but Christianity is the ethical background. In A&E’s P&P, Elizabeth Bennet constantly wears a ruby cross pendant. You can purchase a replica. Christianity is absent from Bridgerton, except for Daphne’s brief church wedding. Bridgerton’s virtue is found in its identity politics.
The left focuses on identity politics so intently that any choice a filmmaker makes re: race is open to attack. In Bridgerton, an abusive, absentee father is black, a girl pregnant out of wedlock is black, and a man who grew up without a father is black. A normal person will understand that there is no message in those casting choices, but those obsessed with identity politics are not normal, and they will see a malicious pattern at work. So, no, colorblind casting has not spared Bridgerton from criticism. Three of the main “black” stars are actually mixed race, and relatively light-skinned. The identity police have noted this, and they are angry.
Simon’s abusive father is dark-skinned and the “worst person in the show,” protests Carolyn Hinds, a black film critic. Will, played by a black actor, drops out of the plot. He should have had more screentime, even though he’s only a secondary character. White people purposely selected light-skinned blacks because white people, including the people who made Bridgerton, are all racist and can accept only light-skinned blacks.
The black actors have “Eurocentric features.” Daphne is nothing but a “white savior,” rants another critic. And more: “The only Black leads allowed are light-skinned. Their colorism problem is exhausting.” “Sprinkling in light-skinned blackness isn’t enough.”
What would be enough? Nothing. Cultural critics Douglas Murray and Tom Holland, both atheists, have observed that with Christianity as cultural background, we had two tools to deal with human failing. Original sin said that everyone was a sinner. No one could pretend to be superior to another in this regard. Confession and divine forgiveness offered a route back into society after one had done wrong. Woke does not allow these features. Whites are always guilty. We must all be aggrieved all the time; we must all shame and browbeat each other; we must all hang our heads.
Bridgerton has been lambasted for having only a quick scene with gay sex, without offering a more developed gay subplot. Bridgerton “lacks meaningful representation” of gay characters. Such representation, of course, would also not be enough. As an IMDB reviewer put it, Bridgerton “is not that bad after a few glasses of wine. I enjoyed watching a period piece with a racially diverse cast. However, if you’re going to get rid of racism why not also get rid of misogyny, bigotry, and classism?” A Woke-ster’s work is never done.
I extend this invitation to those who insist that casting black actors in Bridgerton “injected vitamins” into pop culture. Make a series as costly, lavish, and heavily promoted as Bridgerton. In this new series, cast a white actor as an enslaved person in the antebellum South. If identity really is suddenly infinitely malleable, as Andoh and John Lennon’s “Imagine” propose, then let’s prove our commitment to the cause. The antebellum enslavement of a person with majority European, Caucasian ancestry would not be ahistorical. See these photos. Millions of Europeans were enslaved by African and Eurasian Muslims; see here, here, and here. If the real message of colorblind casting is that skin color is meaningless and viewers should accustom themselves to getting past it – a message I wholeheartedly endorse – then let’s apply it when telling the story of slavery. If it is important to have a woman Othello, then let’s demand a high budget feature film that depicts rape and its aftermath. The lead can be played by a man playing a woman.
Again, I’m not protesting colorblind or gender-crossing casting. I’m protesting hypocrisy. Identity doesn’t matter, till it does. Playing with Legos doesn’t make a girl not a girl, until it does. We should respect all genders and races equally, except, of course, straight white men.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery