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Guest column: Alas, Colour Still Matters

Alas, colour still matters

This is the unabridged version.

When people are storming the citadels of democracy, when strongmen are making new rules and breaking old ones with impunity, when thousands of famers are out protesting in the cold but their protests seem to fall on obdurately deaf ears, is it reprehensible of me to talk about something quite different in this column?

Not really, because the simple truth is, some things matter too much, in the way that dark clouds form inside one`s head, scramble the words one is desperately seeking, stop up one`s speech.

So, I want to shine a spotlight on something else today: Bridgerton, the recent period drama which dropped on a streaming platform recently. It is set in Regency England, London specifically, but bears the unmistakable somewhat befuddled American stamp of its makers,

Bridgerton, a certified blockbuster now, is all set for a second season.  For all its slender bodice-ripper plot and silly errors of omission and commission, it was an entertaining watch.

The one way it stood out —  in a most laudable fashion — was in its colour-blind casting. We saw the regulation black footmen, carriage outriders and sundry servants ( (no point substituting that word with `help` or `staff`) but we also saw people of colour (POC) playing earls and countesses; why, we  even saw a black queen, playing on the real  Queen Charlotte`s  long speculated upon African bloodline.

There was one young woman of much beauty and tragic mystery who was black. The titled lady who brought up the motherless Duke of Hastings, Lady Danbury, was a POC. The dashing feather in this flamboyant cap was the hero of Bridgerton, the Duke of Hastings, played by a handsome black man, Rege-Jean Page. His love interest? Ah, she was as white and virginal as they come.

So much for the serial. What caught my attention was the slew of uncomprehending/horrified/dismayed comments on various social media threads.  Historical inaccuracy, some people screamed, giving instances of how England in the 1800s did not have, could not have had, POCs as part of the country`s vaunted nobility. Elsewhere, one frank set frankly stated that it offended them to see such subversion of history.  Someone else said it was `unimaginable,` thus revealing their own paucity of imagination.

What was interesting was that these comments were all made by Indians on various Bridgerton review posts. So, while I was amused that we the colonised were now insisting on racial purity in serials by having the lily-white colonisers played by suitably lily-white actors,  I was in equal parts horrified. Because there`s no getting away from one fact,  that in objecting to people of colour being cast in roles meant for whites only, ye olde Indian is once again raising the flag of colour bias and prejudice.

Diversity is all very well when it comes to casting POC as the below-stairs servitors. But when it comes to wealthy British nobility, no siree! This reverse snobbery is downright ridiculous, shows us up for the colorist biases we hold on to, and reveals our less- than accepting attitudes of dark and dusky skin colour. Never mind that that is precisely the skin colour of most Indians. Never mind that what happened on the Sydney cricket ground in Australia recently had us all hot under the collar.

The people who produced Bridgeton with its interesting multiracial cast, don`t need to put out any kind of justification or explanation for the BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour) casting. It’s a pity that many Indian watchers just didn’t get that the blind casting was deliberate casting, a celebratory casting.

Yes, race relations is a complex issue, and as regards the serial, objections have been raised to the politics of people of colour mixing freely and happily with those who historically have been their oppressors. That, however, is the topic for quite another debate. The way I see it, blind casting in a fictional – repeat- fictional serial is one great way to address that issue.

Bridgerton`s catchwords are inclusivity, diversity …. and fiction, see?

This ran in The New Sunday Express magazine of 31 Jan 2021.

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Bridgertoncolour biasguest columnSunday Express magazine

Sheila Kumar • January 31, 2021


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