It’s not every day that a movie or series has a big enough impact on modern culture to become an intergenerational sensation. squid game, Euphoriaand tiger king are recent examples that had people talking immediately after their release. A recent show to join this list is the hit period drama, Bridgerton, which follows elite families during the Regency era in London. The first season created quite a buzz, and its second season, released last March, is no exception.
What sets Bridgerton aside from other period dramas, there’s its racial inclusiveness, which is usually absent from the genre. Unlike the true Regency era, known for the luxurious English lifestyles of the early 1800s, racism is a thing of the past in the world of Bridgerton. Interracial marriages are normalized and people of color hold positions of power, including the Queen herself. Usually, other Regency Era dramas do not include people of color on the grounds that they want to stay true to the period.
Shonda Rhymes, creator of Bridgerton, was the first to break this norm by choosing which historical elements were important to preserve. Rather than focusing on the whiteness of the cast to be precise, Rhymes focused his energy on Bridgerton’s amazing costume and set design.
Season two of Bridgerton focused on two new characters, Edwina and Kate Sharma, played by Charithra Chandran and Simone Ashley. The Sharma sisters are the first South Asian characters to appear in Bridgerton. Unlike the Indian characters on many other shows, the sisters have not fallen into many of the traditional racist stereotypes found in the media.
The Sharma sisters didn’t have an overly exaggerated and unrealistic accent, and they had the same character growth and depth as any of the other characters in the series. It is extremely difficult to find Indian characters in media that are not meant to be laughed at. Popular films and shows often depict Indian characters with offensive stereotypes, showing them to be smart and nerdy. These characters are almost never presented as desirable and interesting people, as they should be. The Sharma sisters are fully developed and nuanced characters.
In addition to fighting stereotypes, Bridgerton the second season incorporated aspects of Indian culture that were never depicted in Hollywood productions. Kate and Edwina are shown performing the Haldi ceremony, a traditional practice that takes place before a wedding. During the Haldi ceremony, music from the famous Bollywood film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is played in the background.
Additionally, throughout the show, Edwina is shown calling Kate “Didi”, which means elder sister in Hindi. Kate and Edwina also call their father “Appa” which means father. At one point in the show, Kate is shown giving Edwina a head massage with oil, a common practice in Indian families. All of these references to the Sharma sisters’ culture run throughout the series and are important to Kate and Edwina’s identity, showing that they are multi-dimensional characters. Rather than completely assimilating the Sharmas into “Ton” society (as Britain’s elite community is called), Bridgerton embraced and educated viewers on their practices.
Not only Bridgerton have amazing South Asian representation, but they went above and beyond in casting. Due to the extreme colorism that has existed in Bollywood for ages, darker-skinned South Asians are unlikely to see anyone who looks like them on screen. Skin lightening is a common practice in India and darker skinned women face a lot of discrimination on all fronts. The actresses who play Kate and Edwina are two darker-skinned Indian women who have experienced colorism. Chandran, who played Edwina, described her experience growing up receiving colorist messages as “traumatic”. By casting these actresses in lead roles, Bridgerton has opened up a new level of representation, one that offers multi-faceted opportunities for actors and audiences alike.
BridgertonThe second season of improved popular media in many ways, especially showing that period dramas can remain historically accurate without discriminating against those from certain backgrounds.
Hopefully more mainstream shows will follow this model and provide accurate representation for anyone watching at home.