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Unpacking South Asian Representation in Bridgerton


Even if you haven’t seen Bridgerton, you might have heard of Simone Ashley’s performance as Kate Sharma in the second season. The Tamil-British actress first graced our screens in the Netflix show Sex Education; however, she didn’t have a major role. In this regency period drama we see Simone as the lead Kathany Sharma along with Charithra Chandran; her onscreen sister Edwina Sharma, as we are introduced to an Indian family in 19th century London.


From the classical rendition of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham during a ball, to the incorporation of distinctly South Asian elements like haldi, and Indian inspired fabrics; how far does Bridgerton really go in terms of authentic representation?




Viewers have pointed out some linguistic inaccuracies; Sharma is an upper caste north Indian name but the girls call their father Appa which is a Tamil term. Kate also refers to Edwina as Bon which is a Bengali word meaning sister.

The show itself has been met with mixed reviews with many people appreciating the director Shonda Rhimes for her inclusive and diverse representations while others believe that it feels forced, especially because of major historical inaccuracies that overlook racial elements and erase decades of colonial violence.


Like other Shonda Rhimes shows (greys anatomy, how to get away with murder) Bridgerton practises colour blind casting i.e. casting without considering the actor's race. So people of colour can see themselves represented on screen as more than just victims or stereotypes. However, in recent years, the entertainment industry is placing more importance on colour conscious casting which acknowledges that race plays a role in most interactions and weaves it into the story.


We have to keep in mind that this show is set during the period when the East India Company was taking over the subcontinent but there is no mention of the imperialistic oppression brown people were facing. Instead it glosses over the realities of colonialism and the limited social mobility for marginalised communities at the time.

Perhaps we shouldn’t hold too many expectations about historical accuracy from a fictional period drama that has ariana grande playing during a ball. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to revel in the liberal escapism of bridgerton and simply enjoy the raunchy romance of the regency era. But then that begs the question; can diverse representation really be authentic and not superficial without delving deeper into racial backgrounds?

 

Of course, there is no single or right answer to this. So let me know how you feel about the representation in Bridgerton. Even if you haven’t watched the show what do you think is the impact of casting poc in lead roles?

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15 Comments


Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Jun 30, 2023

An amazing blog Alina!

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Aisha Aamir
Aisha Aamir
Jun 22, 2023

Loved you analysis! I think representation is one of Bridgerton's fatal flaw and also its emboldened strength at the same time. It struggles with accurate representation and its need to be all-inclusive makes it a little awkward with not enough coherence. Though I absolutely love the show, it tackles diversity and inclusion with very less regard to intersectionality and delves into extreme historical inaccuracies which does raise some eyebrows. In the same vein, I do think it is rather revolutionary as narrating historical events through an imagined all-inclusive society. However, the way they do it is a little off-putting. You discussed South Asian representation and its inaccuracies, and they do the same with Black representation. And even when taking on…

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Thank you Aisha! Yess I agree, I feel like the representation here sort of poses a double edged sword due to its mixed implications. On one hand it does incorporate inclusivity for poc in the period drama genre which has traditionally been depicted in a eurocentric world. But then it does not necessarily address the intersectionality of identities in depth. I also feel like the regency era setting which is historically rooted in racial inequality, is not substantially explored. Even with regards to black representation, the characters are still situated within a predominantly white aristocratic society and their experiences and challenges related to race are often downplayed or overlooked. Also I completely agree with your last point about the selective…

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This is a very insightful analysis. Honestly, I watched both the seasons and liked the second season more primarily because the South Asian and to be more specific, Indian representation made it quite appealing and relatable. Especially the kabhi khushi kabhi gham music and all the traditions. I feel that when there is any semblance of representation of people of colour in these shows and it somewhat comes as authentic with brown/black actors being casted and mimicking their cultural traditions, it can sway away the audience to not delve into the intricacies of these choices and just consume them passively as any realistic representation of such people, apart from the stereotypical ones are rare to see. Yet, as you mentioned…

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts Sarwat, and I definitely agree with the appeal of such representation because I also personally enjoyed seeing a dark skinned woman in a lead role like this and I loved the classical rendition of kabhi khushi kabhi gham. I think with shows like these sometimes we do tend to passively consume portrayals without fully engaging with the underlying intricacies and realism of the choices made. And with Bridgerton its a slippery slope because on one hand it is fiction but then the show also tries to position itself within history/tries to rewrite it by making surface level references to race so it is not fully race blind either. It doesn’t bother me to the…

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Loved the article! Haven't seen the show but cacurate representation is very important. A lot of times people may try to have accurate representations with accurate casting but there is still a lot that needs to be looked at. A lot of times cultural appropriation becomes the norm and I think I've noticed this especially in African representations. An African person may be cast but usually what comes to mind for African representations is something related to poverty, indigenous, hunger and such. As you mentioned, it's important to see where and why the show needs such representations and how can they avoid stereotyping or inaccurate representations because merely correct casting might not do the trick.

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Thank you for your insights Fatima! You’ve raised an interesting point about cultural appropriation, however I would like to clarify that the director Shonda rhimes is a black woman and in terms of African American representation in all of her shows she does move away from stereotypical portrayals and gives more voice and agency to the African American community. However in case of Bridgerton its a slippery slope because the show essentially imagines a utopian race blind setting while still attempting to position itself within history.

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I like your awareness of the issue, I think it really comes down to the writers room where a deep and complex understanding of different cultures should be done responsibly. While there is an attempt, there also seems to be generalisations or inaccuracies as you have mentioned which is then not accurate representation of the people and their cultures and this can give way to bigger problems of misrepresentation.

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Thank you! And you’ve brought up a valid point about the writer’s room which also reminds me of our class discussion yesterday when we were talking about policies to incorporate in media planning. I think the minor inaccuracies like the ones related to language could’ve easily been avoided if the writers did their research and were more informed of the culture they were portraying. Especially in a show with such a big budget like this one, how hard could’ve it been to do deeper research.

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