Colorblind Casting, Racism, and “Historical Accuracy”: Unpacking the Bridgerton Casting “Controversy”

Last week, casting news for  The Little Mermaid live-action remake began making waves (hehe) on the Internet, and it was followed up this week by the casting announcement for Shonda Rhimes Bridgerton  Netflix series. And while both pieces of news had me excited, due to Little Mermaid being my childhood favorite and the Bridgertons being my all-time favorite historical romance series…other people weren’t so happy. And setting aside the understandable reservations that some have about the casting of the Bridgertons series, such as the implied changes and new characters, many of the worst comments shared a similar theme with The Little Mermaid’s casting reactions in being focused on the race of some of the actors. 

Among the cast, we have Regé-Jean Page playing Simon and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, those being the choices that have been the targets of the biggest race-related comments, due to the characters’ prominence in the book series. 

Most, like with the Ariel comments, chose to make it about “historical accuracy,” accusing Shonda of “changing [history] to fit her narrative,” with others questioning why the change was done when Julia Quinn did not make them POC in the first place, pulling the “create original stories” card, which are very familiar to anyone who was following the insanity from the Ariel casting last week. 

` And I just find it laughable and sickening at the same time. Laughable because historical accuracy is their excuse, but neither Disney nor JQ are necessarily known for their strict adherence to historical accuracy. And it’s even funny for historical romance readers to cry about that stuff, because they’re totally fine with thousands of young, virile dukes (a complete fiction), not to mention some of the anachronistic shenanigans of historical romance books, but an aristocratic historical romance hero (or heroine)  portrayed as a person of color? Pitchforks! 

Also, I’ve seen the claim touted that if black people existed at all during the Regency, they were servants or slaves. Vanessa Riley (and many serious historians) would beg to differ, having written a number of books set in the period, with black people in different walks of life, from servant to aristocrat, and featuring a wealth of information about Black people in the Regency on her website. 

For the most part, it all goes back to colorblind casting and each of the people chosen being who they felt captured the spirit of the role. The main  defense given for Halle Bailey as Ariel is her killer pipes, and I have to agree, especially given the fact that some people’s ideal casting choices don’t come close to hitting her range vocally. And while I’m not familiar with any of the cast for the Bridgertons series, I don’t think it’s out of character for Shonda Rhimes, who has produced diverse series like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, to cast people of color here either, and am open to giving all of the cast a chance to prove what they can do, instead of passing judgment prematurely. 

But regardless of who’s in charge, it’s just disheartening to see so much hatred over the casting of fictional characters, especially since the accusations are the same every time (like, legitimately, I heard the same things come up in response to both Ariel and the Bridgertons, and every other colorblind re-casting)? Becoming “too PC?” Heard that one before. “Black people should make their own show?” What do you think they’ve been trying to do for decades? “Not historically accurate?” See above. 

It’s sad that we still have people who hold these antiquated beliefs in 2019. I understand having a love for a childhood classic film or a beloved book series, and dreading changes when a remake or new adaptation comes around. But that’s no reason to be hateful and exclusionary to others, especially to entire groups of people who have put up with decades of not being represented in media, due to systemic barriers in their way.

Review of “The Other Miss Bridgerton” (Rokesbys #3) by Julia Quinn

Quinn, Julia. The Other Miss Bridgerton. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062388209 | 391 pages | Historical Romance

4.5 stars

Julia Quinn is one of the few autobuy authors where her new release goes near the top of my TBR pile, only to leave me agonizing as I’m faced with the prospect of waiting another year for more books from her. And this one is no different. While there are some small pacing issues, given some of the other books I’ve read lately committing much worse crimes in terms of pacing in relation to plot, I can’t be too upset with this book wrapping things up more quick;y than I’d like.

JQ has two major strengths, characterization and dialogue, and they both shine here. While other authors like to make their characters, especially their heroes, emotionally complex and closed off to the point of being unlikable, you don’t see that with her. There is some deception, and that is where the story could have benefited from being a little longer, because it seems like Poppy just kind of accepts that Captain Andrew James is also her cousins’ friend, Andrew Rokesby, since they’ve already developed feelings for one another. But I love how well their banter, peppered occasionally with Shakespearean references and quotes, as well as discussions of maritime language, among other fun topics, led the way to them falling in love, even when things started off on somewhat tenuous footing.

As this book is given the subheading “A Bridgertons Prequel,” references to the original series are inevitable, and I love how well they’re worked in. It is always a daunting task for any creator to release prequels to their established and well-loved works, given that there will not only be the inevitable comparisons to the originals but examination of the text by eagle-eyed fans to make sure it matches up with the established canon of the world. And while she is not infallible, as some of these examples from past works indicate, she has done well in the case of this book and series with adding to the Bridgerton family history in a believable way, and referencing members of the family we know and love.

That being said, I would recommend this to any Bridgertons fan. While, again it’s not the perfect book, it offers up more  exactly what I think most readers of the Bridgertons and JQ love.

The Bridgertons-Ranked: A Response to Heroes and Heartbreakers

Today’s visual media is saturated with remakes and reboots trying (and often failing) to cater to a sense of nostalgia. But the same cannot be said for the romance industry, which frequently has authors have books spin off into one another into series, and sometimes series that spin off into each other.

Julia Quinn is famous for this, with each of the stories she writes set in the same world, where you may often see a familiar name dropped in passing. But she is arguably most well-known for the Bridgerton series, which she returned to last year, with the first in her prequel series, the Rokesbys, Because of Miss Bridgerton, following that up with the recent The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband. But as great as every book is, favorites remain debatable, as I found out when I read this post on HeroesandHeartbreakers.com. As such, I was inspired to create my own ranking. And despite my initial gut instincts regarding certain books in the series, after serious thought, I ended up rearranging my ranking a few times. Yes, it is hard to rank your favorite books.

8. When He Was Wicked: I was shocked to see this one rated at second on the list, as I find I cannot think of much that is memorable about it. JQ did her homework regarding malaria research, but I found this romance a bit off-putting. I’m not certain if it’s because Michael is a brooding hero, or he loved Francesca for so long, even while she was married, or if there is some other reason that I can’t quite identify, but I just didn’t gel with this one.

7. The Duke and I: This one gets credit for being the first in the series, as the original poster notes. And even though some aspects of the Bridgertons, like Violet, are not as developed as they would eventually become, it is a solid book. But again, we have a brooding and tortured hero, which is a trope that seems to have become way more popular than it should. In all fairness to JQ, she does write Simon in a way that makes him at least somewhat empathetic, but it does still fall into the trope of matching a tortured alpha with a naive young woman.

6, It’s in His Kiss: Hyacinth’s story is interesting, in which she is helping Gareth translate a diary from Italian. What I find most memorable, however, is her humor, especially in the scenes with Lady Danbury. However, as a romance, it is lower on the scale for me.

5. On the Way to the Wedding: This is a sweet book, although, as the blog post says, it does lack some of the familial banter that made the others so much fun. I do not think it needs it, as we can see how Gregory is shaped by having had his parents and siblings’ love stories as examples, yet not being able to escape his own romantic woes in the process.

4. To Sir Philip, With Love: Like the original poster, I loved Eloise in Romancing Mister Bridgerton, and was curious as to what was going on with her. I found myself pleasantly surprised when reading about the scandalous thing she did, going off to meet Sir Philip. I adore a story about how a second marriage can transform the lives of both the father and the children, and this one met my expectations in that regard.

3. The Viscount Who Loved Me: I adore this one more for the family banter than for the actual romance, although Anthony and Kate make compelling characters who work well together. The Pall Mall scene is unforgettable, both in terms of establishing the rapport between family members and amping up the romantic tension between the hero and heroine (and also spawning a rematch in the 2nd Epilogue).

2. An Offer from a Gentleman: This was my first JQ, and the book that got me hooked on historical romance, so this may just be my nostalgia talking. But I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, and I adored this one, even though there were some times when I wanted to hit Benedict over the head for being a bit stupid. But Sophie is a great heroine, and I love that it’s not a straight Cinderella retelling, but adds something new to the story.

1.  Romancing Mister Bridgerton: This is the one where we are in complete agreement. I adore this book, and the characters, Colin, who is struggling to find his place but hides behind the facade of a happy-go-lucky rake, and Penelope, who struggles with trying to figure out how to express who she truly is publicly, are both relatable, and represent the best of JQ. Also, this represents a turning point in the series, as the article notes this book contains the unmasking of Lady Whistledown. Plus, if they ever to a television or movie series, I have the perfect Colin in mind. 

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Review of “The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband” (Rokesbys #2) by Julia Quinn

Quinn, Julia. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-238817-9. Paperback List Price: $7.99

5 stars

Julia Quinn is an autobuy author for me, and is she is the reason I am addicted to historical romance. Having read every one of them (which is something I can’t say I’ve done for many of my other favorites), she has never disappointed me. One of the many things I love about her (aside from her humorous dialogue!) is the way she incorporates different types of people into her books, and makes them both convincing in a historical context and relatable in a modern sense.

This book is no different. Edward Rokesby is a hero I loved almost from the moment I met him. He’s a hero who has a sense of honor, and I love that he never had a moment of anger at Cecilia for her deception, even though she knew he had every right to be angry at her for lying.

I also love that he’s not your typical lordling or rake that you see in romance novels, who has a reputation for bad behavior. It is stated at one point that “his father had pulled him aside and put the fear of God and pox in him. And so while Edward had visited brothels with his friends, he’d never partaken of the goods.”  (143) While it does go on to say he was by no means completely celibate, it states his preference for discretion and being with someone of his acquaintance.

I would also like to commend JQ for trying a new setting, as well as giving us a different perspective of sorts of the Revolutionary War. In a recent chat regarding the book, she mentioned how we as Americans are taught that the British were the “bad guys” in this conflict, so it is fascinating to see a novel about the time period where all the major characters are British.