Last night, I decided to finally succumb to the buzz, and watched the new Netflix show, Bridgerton. All that I knew about the show was that it is set during the Regency period and that it was quite steamy…i.e. lots of nudity and sex scenes. I have always somewhat reluctantly enjoyed Jane Austen, and the novels she set during that era, so I figured I might enjoy this new show as well. And it is well-crafted. And easily addictive. I found it begrudgingly satisfying in the way all guilty pleasures are. To some, that’s watching trashy reality television. For me, it’s apparently binging on Regency soft-core porn. 😉
Like Austen, writer Julia Quinn invents a protagonist who is a headstrong and stifled young woman whose sense of fierce self-determination is seemingly at odds with her predestined station in life and the established mores of the age. As you might expect, she wants to find love and true companionship, but being a young landed woman of a certain age, must also find a husband as soon as possible. In Bridgerton, the young protagonist’s name is Daphne, and her older brother (Anthony), is bound and determined to find her a suitable match. In this case, the eldest brother is overly picky and cannot bring himself to approve of any of her would-be suitors.
Enter the newly-minted Duke of Hastings. He is an old college friend of Anthony’s and dutifully mannered, classically handsome, exquisitely dressed, and obviously, London’s most eligible bachelor.
If this film were being made in the late ’60s, it would be called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? That classic movie stars Sydney Poitier as Dr. John Prentice, the Black fiancé to a young (headstrong and free-thinking) white woman named Joanna, who brings him home to progressive San Francisco to meet her otherwise liberal parents – played by Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. In that film, the lefty white couple’s attitudes are challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African-American fiancé – a doctor, no less – and their true veneer and liberal hypocrisy and is exposed for all that it is. The movie was of its age, and at the same time, also timeless and far-sighted. You might even say, ahead of its time. How are we still having these conversations nearly 55 years later?
In 2017, visionary actor, writer, director, and producer Jordan Peele completely turned Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? on its head, and injected horror and menace into the premise, mixed genres and allusions in a lovely postmodern pastiche, and produced Get Out. In doing so, he effectively created his own genre of film – social justice horror. Or Racial Thriller. Or whatever film historians will ultimately call it. Essentially, it is a movie about relationships between white America and Black America, and the horror that can arise out of the collision of those two forces…particularly to African Americans, who have been historically abused, maligned, oppressed, and traumatized by systemic racism in this country for over 400 years. This racism is systemic because it underlies EVERY institution in America, from our criminal justice system to housing market to education system to…well…EVERYTHING. But in these films, that racism translates to real people, whose relationships are not merely transactional, but rooted in a deep-seated racism that permeates our very words, thoughts, and actions. The true horror is that we (WHITE AMERICA) are finally seeing what Black Americans have lived in this country since they were first brought over in chains. Peele’s film arrived just three years before the George Floyd murder and subsequent Black Lives Matter summer of protests, but it wasn’t necessarily prescient. Because as a Black man, Peele had already lived this reality his entire life, as every African American has for centuries. It was merely that white America was finally seeing the cell phone videos for the first time. Those images have undoubtedly been imprinted on Black peoples’ minds for generations. OUR eyes have opened, not THEIRS. And yet, if you look at the number of people who reject BLM or deny the existence of racially-motivated police brutality, it seems that only a half of white America have opened their eyes. There is still a LOT of work to do. And that is why there is nothing more urgent or timely than the work Jordan Peele is producing right now.
But what does any of this have to do with Bridgerton and my enjoyment of this light-hearted romp through Regency England?
TO BE CONTINUED…