‘Bridgerton’ and the Problem With 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—drawn-out storylines, 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 are introduced to many hopefuls, including Lady Mary’s (Shelley Conn) youngest daughter, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), and her older half-sister Kate, played by Netflix’s sex education star Simone Ashley. The family has come to London from India for Edwinas’s societal debut. The Sharmas are another attempt to diversify the lily-white world of the Bridgerton novels—but is it working?

The “color-conscious” casting has been a focal point of critics and viewers since the series debuted on Christmas Day 2020, and this is still true for season two. The further diversified cast is a welcome change, but I worry it’s reading as checkbox inclusivity. It’s not a novel idea to take a beloved book that is steeped in whiteness and dip it in diversity for the screen, so I am slow to give out extra points for the casting—especially because all the characters of color still face (or come with ) the biggest traumas.

Last season, a pregnant Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) was sold off to live with distant family members who (mostly) despised her in order to settle a debt. We pay a visit to her in Season 2, and though she and her children de ella (she had twins!) Are living very well, the cost she had to pay for such comfort has made her unhappy, alone, and stuck in a loveless marriage of convenience. The Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), grew up with a father who was an abusive monster (to both him and his mother), and that unprocessed trauma follows him deep into adulthood, where his wife forcefully makes him a father. Now, in Season 2, we meet the stunning Sharmas, and soon learn that their backstories are filled with rejection, fear, flight, and death. It could be argued that the show is simply following the storylines laid out in the novels, and that reinventing those already existing characters as people of color for the screen was just a good fit. But then what is the reasoning for giving Black characters created just for the adaptation heavier storylines? There are two new characters in particular who get 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 training session, and later used his boxing talents to become a moneymaker for the white men of the ton. His storyline expands in the new season as he tries to open his social club, but his hard efforts are repeatedly laughed off by those same white men. He doesn’t get (some) 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 Genevieve Delacroix, played by Kathryn Drysdale. There is so much space for depth, or even frivolity, in her storyline de ella, but she is continually used to help move everyone else’s plot forward but her own de ella.

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