It isn’t every day that a film or series makes a big enough impact on modern day culture that it becomes a cross-generational sensation. Squid Game, Euphoria, and Tiger King are recent examples that got people talking immediately after their releases. One 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 this past March, is no exception.
What sets Bridgerton apart from other period dramas is its racial inclusivity, generally not seen in the genre. Unlike the real Regency Era, known for the luxurious English lifestyles in 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 period dramas don’t include people of color under the excuse that they want to stay true to the time period.
Shonda Rhymes, the 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 in order to be accurate, Rhymes focused her energy on Bridgerton’s incredible 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 Indian characters in many other shows, the sisters didn’t fall into many of the traditional racist stereotypes found throughout the media.
The Sharma sisters didn’t have an over exaggerated, unrealistic accent, and they had the same character growth and depth as any of the other characters on the show. It’s extremely hard to find Indian characters in media that aren’t made to be laughed at. Popular films and shows often portray Indian characters with offensive stereotypes, showing them as smart and nerdy. These characters are almost never shown as desirable, interesting people, as they should be. The Sharma sisters are fully developed and nuanced characters.
In addition to countering stereotypes, Bridgerton season two did incorporate aspects of Indian culture that have never been represented in Hollywood productions. Kate and Edwina are shown performing the Haldi Ceremony, a traditional practice that is performed before a wedding. During the Haldi Ceremony, music from the famous Bollywood movie, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, is played in the background.
Also, throughout the show Edwina is shown calling Kate “Didi”, which means older 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, which is a common practice found in Indian families. All of these references to the Sharma sisters’ culture are found all throughout the show and are important to Kate and Edwina’s identities, showing that they are multidimensional characters. Rather than completely assimilating the Sharmas to the society of the “Ton” (what the elite British community is called), Bridgerton embraced and educated viewers on their practices.
Not only did Bridgerton have amazing South Asian representation, but they went above and beyond with casting. Because of the extreme colorism that has existed in Bollywood for ages, South Asians with darker skin are unlikely to see anyone who looks like them on screen. Skin lightening is a common practice in India and darker skin women face a lot of discrimination on every front. The actresses who play Kate and Edwina are two darker skin Indian women who have experienced colorism. Chandran, who played Edwina, described her experience growing up receiving colorist messaging as “traumatizing.” By having these actresses play the main roles, Bridgerton opened up a new level of representation, that offers multi-faceted opporutnity for actors and the audience.
Bridgerton’s second season has bettered popular media in many ways, most importantly by showing that period dramas can stay historically accurate while not discriminating against those of certain backgrounds.
Hopefully, more mainstream shows follow this model and offer accurate representation to everyone watching at home.