From bone-chilling ice baths in an attempt to cure ‘madness’ and commands to paint the Queen’s portrait until her skin looks “almost pale”, Shonda Rhimes’ newest addition to the Bridgerton universe is a hearty reflection of modern society’s unsolved issues.
The prequel series, Queen Charlotte, finally made its debut on Netflix at the start of May – a whole year after the second season of Bridgerton was released.
Set in the 1810s, the period drama tells the story of a young Charlotte (played by India Amarteifio) who travels all the way from Germany to England as a promised wife to a man she has never met before.
Unaware of the real reason she’s made the journey, Charlotte gets cold feet and asks King George of England (played by Corey Mylchreest) to help her go over a wall and escape marrying him.
Other than the blossoming romance between Charlotte and King George, the book and series feature a more apparent fact; the plot primarily focuses on the racial segregation during the period, through a modern lens.
While the series is one of fiction, the modern-world problems that this story represents are a combination of the hard-hitting realities that marginalised communities still face today, and here’s why.
“Our side and their side do not mix. Ever.”
Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix
Queen Charlotte and King George are meant to be the first ever interracial couple within the monarchy in the Bridgerton universe. This is an entirely original concept, as the Bridgerton books by Julia Quinn hardly mention the couple, nor any descriptions of their characters or interests.
However in this series we see Queen Charlotte as the first woman of colour not just to marry into the monarchy, but to become Queen of England.
Shonda Rhimes has been popular in introducing diversity to the Bridgerton world from the beginning with characters like Simon Basset (played by Regé-Jean Page), and Kate Sharma (played by Simone Ashley).
“In the Bridgerton world, we’re always talking about how Queen Charlotte and King George have sort of made this new England possible. Where we’re seeing integrated society, where everybody’s got titles. And so I wanted to show how that came to be,” Shonda said in an interview with Netflix.
While this idea of a “new England” seemed desirable, Shonda was absolutely right in portraying the truth that came with this attempt of diversifying society.
While people of colour in the series hold titles with the same status as white people, the racial divide was still apparent. For those who are not Queen, titles were simply not enough. Shonda showed us how they clearly work far better for white men at the time than they did for anyone else.
The black community in particular were presented as keeping vigilant of the boundaries between ‘two sides’ due to the prejudices formed by the white nobility at the time.
We see this happening in the discrimination Lord Danbury was subject to. He is portrayed as a man of many insecurities that often needed consoling and left taking action about any of his problems to his wife.
Although his complaints made him less likeable, the Lord’s disappointment was valid. His main concern stemmed from his discontent with a lack of acceptance into the higher rankings of society despite his newly-given title. The reason was of course due to prejudices by white nobility towards his race.
This storyline, including its series of events, are a clear reflection of a very apparent debate in our modern society, and that is the argument concerning equality versus equity.
Photo Credits: Liam Daniel/Netflix
Equality means providing everyone with the same opportunities; just as titles were given to all members of the ton (the high society in the United Kingdom during the reign of King George) at the time.
On the other hand, what is more appropriate is the concept of equity. Equity translates into giving people what they need to achieve equality rather than assuming that everyone’s needs fall on the same baseline.
The apparent lack of equity amongst members of the ton explains why these titles hardly made a difference to the disparities faced by people of colour.
It is clear that the black community in the QC Universe needed different and possibly more opportunities and resources to achieve ‘equality’ because of a clear discrimination towards their race. This is much like our modern world today.
The United Kingdom is said to have the highest levels of income inequality in Europe, according to data by Eurostat. The ethnicity pay gap between white and ethnic minority groups in England and Wales was recorded at 2.3% in 2019. This gap was nearly four times bigger in 2014, Statista revealed.
Many areas in our society continue to lack social equality as well as social equity – the most common being the workplace.
Achieving equity requires structural change and is more often than not, a top-down solution. It requires a certain amount of power to make such a stark change, and The Great Experiment did exactly that.
This was an idea introduced by Princess Augusta to the House of Lords in an effort to officially desegregate the ton. We see Princess Augusta speaking to Lord and Lady Danbury at the royal wedding when she says “It’s time we were united as a society, is it not?”
While The Great Experiment did kickstart the desegregation of communities, its existence came purely out of selfish reasons. When Princess Augusta sees her future Queen for the first time, she shakes her head in disapproval with a frown on her face and comments on Charlotte’s skin in a later scene, and says, “she’s very brown”.
It was too late for the Princess to send her future Queen back as a deal had been made by Charlotte’s brother, Adolphus. And so she thinks of The Great Experiment as a facade to display her fondness towards the idea of a society coming together, when in fact it is an attempt to escape the claws that The House of Lords have clearly sunk into her.
Elsewhere, Queen Charlotte was the face of this desegregation as she pioneered a new, integrated society. We see Lady Danbury stress the importance of the Queen’s newfound title, calling her “the first of her kind” as a black woman to not just hold a high ranking in society, but to rule as the Queen of England.
However at the ripe age of 17, Charlotte was too heartbroken by George’s absence to realise her responsibility as the representation that her community needed. Lady Danbury’s confrontation brought Charlotte’s awareness to her newfound duty as the leader of Shonda’s “new England.”
Although England has grown to be a diverse community, it still has a long way to go. People of colour continue to face prejudice and discrimination within our modern integrated world. Queen Charlotte’s commentary on both old and new England is a sign that we need a more inclusive and equitable society.
If you liked this post then read Marie Arnold: Shedding a light on police brutality or What happens to books that don’t find a reader?next.
Shruthi is a journalism student with a passion for reading, travel, food and music. She likes to spend her free time at Waterstones or journalling whenever she can. She’s passionate about human connection and relationships in books, so that we can learn to better ourselves and how we communicate with others.
Favourite genre: Contemporary romance.