Netflix’s hit series ‘Bridgerton’ and the art of non-traditional casting | cultural | Report on arts, music and lifestyle in Germany | DW

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Netflix had a lucrative first season with American producer Shonda Rhimes’ period drama “Bridgerton.”

Now, audiences are eagerly awaiting the next season, which hits the streaming service on March 25.

It’s all about love, intrigue and sex once again – except this time it’s not a young white woman looking for a good partner, but her older brother, Lord Anthony.

The series is set in the British royal court of the 1810s. Some of the main characters are people of color, including the British queen and lover Viscount Bridgerton.

Casting actors who have a different skin color than the literary characters they play, or even having them portray historical figures they do not resemble due to racial or ethnic background, is called colorblind casting and is a practice common in British theater for years. .

Queen Charlotte, right, and Lady Danbury discuss

Increasingly, colorblind casting is also being used in English-language films and television, which often causes controversy.

Promotional images of characters from Amazon Prime’s new series based on “The Lord of the Rings” have led some social users to complain that the series features women with swords and people with brown and black skin. The colorblind cast and equal gender roles are “not authentic”, they say.

“Conscious decision to reinterpret history”

Actors Equity in the United States prefers to call it “non-traditional” casting, according to Ellen Harrington, director of the German Film Institute and Museum in Frankfurt.

In the past, film sets were shot with white people, right down to crew members and smaller roles, Harrington told DW. That’s not true for “Bridgerton,” she says, adding that casting People of Color as members of the royal court was a conscious decision to reinterpret and tell the story.

“Bridgerton” is based on Julia Quinn’s eight-volume series of novels about the fictional Bridgerton family.

Unlike the series, Queen Charlotte does not appear in the novel.

In choosing Golda Rosheuvel as queen, series creators Shonda Rhimes and Chris van Dusen returned to a historical debate that Sophie Charlotte zu Mecklenburg-Strelitz, born in 1744, had African ancestors – meaning she would have indeed could have been the first black British Queen.

Diversity on German TV

German film and TV producers could take a cue from this “untraditional” type of casting, Nigerian-German actress Sheri Hagen has told DW.

Black people or LGBTQ people appear more often in German series these days, but sometimes their characters just perpetuate stereotypes.

Diversity isn’t about having the token black actor in a TV series, but rather a holistic approach, Hagen says. It’s not just important who’s on camera, but who writes the script, how those stories are communicated, and who implements the ideas on camera, she adds.

Photo from the film Bridgerton season 2, several young women and young men in evening dress

Young women and their potential suitors in regency-era drama

In Germany, unlike the United Kingdom and the United States, there is little public debate on the various dimensions of diversity other than issues such as inclusion in society and – by implication – the representation of minorities in the television and in entertainment in general should involve.

Sexual minorities more visible

“Gays, transgenders and other groups are definitely represented on German television. Germany is much more liberal than other countries,” Dean Baykan, an actor born in Germany to Turkish parents, told DW in 2021 .

Compared to Germany, other European countries – including Hungary, where the public display of lifestyles that do not conform to so-called traditional family values ​​is prohibited by law – are very strict in their rejection of homosexuality.

“While Germany claims to be open in many ways, it is also sometimes conservative,” according to Baykan, who adds that foreigners or people of foreign origin are not taken seriously in feature films or film projects. ‘actor.

Diversity pays off

At least since the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite debates, Hollywood has made efforts to bring more diversity to the film industry and to allow people of color to tell stories from their perspective.

 Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes in 2020

One reason: these films do well at the box office. “In Hollywood, there’s a direct correlation between higher profits and a diverse cast or a film that shows a more diverse world,” says Harrington of the German Film Institute.

In the case of “Bridgerton,” too, it’s hard to deny that connection.

It was the biggest debut ever for a Netflix original series, Jinny Howe, Netflix’s vice president of drama development, wrote in a January 2021 blog post shortly after the first season’s release. Some 82 million households worldwide watched the series in the first month.

Netflix is ​​already planning seasons 3 and 4, as well as a miniseries about Charlotte as a young queen, based on a screenplay by Shonda Rhimes.

No historical novel

However, the success of the series cannot be attributed solely to the diversity of the cast. “Romance books have always sold incredibly well,” Howe wrote ahead of the release via Deadline.

“Bridgerton” is above all a romance, not a historical novel or even a realistic documentary but a dramatic, funny and lewd play about the love lives of rich and beautiful people.

Photo from the movie Bridgerton season 1

Season 1 of ‘Bridgerton’ was a smash hit

None of the above is new in the tradition of storytelling: the medieval sagas of King Arthur are also “romances”, tales of romantic adventures that emerged long before the novel or modern historiography. Fairy tales where brave knights fight dragons, powerful women cast spells over entire kingdoms, and young nobles fall in love with the wife of the lord of the castle also refer to this ancient tradition.

Even in the Middle Ages, stories were not meant to be historically accurate or realistic.

“Bridgerton” isn’t meant to be realistic either, Howe says, but rather fun. The goal, she said, is to create a world in which “people of all backgrounds and ages can wonderfully escape”.

The setting, editing, dialogue and music of the first season already made it clear that the series was not a historical drama.

Photo from the film Bridgerton season 2, a woman leans on the balustrade of a balcony

Penelope Featherington led a double life in season 1, but was discovered

German television is still a long way from these productions, just as it still generally steers away from fantasy and historical material beyond the year 1900, which is partly due to considerably lower production budgets.

“Bridgerton”, the series is sure to captivate audiences around the world once again, allowing them to briefly escape from reality.

As JRR Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” once said, “The only people who stand against the escapees are the jailers”.

This article was originally written in German.

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