”I feel like the word color blind implies that color and race was never considered,“ series creator Chris Van Dusen tells TheWrap
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Though “Bridgerton” is based on Julia Quinn’s beloved romance novel series of the same name, there are some stark differences between the Shonda Rhimes-produced drama and its source material. And one of the biggest is the fact that while Quinn’s books take place in the whitewashed reality of 19th-century England, “Bridgerton” is a show filled with color and race in all levels of its society.
But the fact that the show rewrites history to bestow titles like queen and duke on Black characters does not make “Bridgerton” a project that features “color blind” casting. In fact, series creator Chris Van Dusen said it was just the opposite.
“I don’t call the casting color blind, because I feel like the word color blind implies that color and race was never considered — and I don’t think that’s true for ‘Bridgerton,'” Van Dusen said. “I think color and race is very much a part of the show and very much a part of the conversation, just like things like class and gender and sexuality are. And a lot of that came from collaborating with the cast hand in hand and also working with historians.”
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Regé-Jean Page as Duke of Hastings (Netflix)
“Bridgerton” follows Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family as she makes her debut onto Regency London’s competitive marriage market. Hoping to follow in her parents’ footsteps and find a match sparked by true love, Daphne’s prospects initially seem to be unrivaled. But as her older brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) begins to rule out her potential suitors, the high-society scandal sheet written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) casts aspersions on Daphne.
Enter the highly desirable and rebellious Simon Bassett, aka the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), committed bachelor and the catch of the season for the debutantes’ mamas. Despite their protestations, romantic sparks fly as Daphne and the Duke find themselves engaged in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society’s expectations for their future.
The Bridgerton family is made up of white actors like Dynevor, while the Duke of Hastings is played by Page, who is Black. Simon’s family was given their dukedom by Queen Charlotte (played by Golda Rosheuvel), who is of mixed race in the show’s fictional world — but is also believed by some experts to have been biracial in real life.
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Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte (Netflix)
“One thing I learned was this really fascinating fact that a lot of historians believe there is evidence for today that Queen Charlotte was actually England’s first queen of mixed race,” Van Dusen said. “And I think that that notion really struck me because it made me wonder what that could have looked like. Could she have elevated other people of color in society and granted them titles and lands and dukedoms. And that’s really where the Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings on the series, that’s the idea he was born out of. For me, it was always about mixing history and fantasy in a really exciting, interesting way. And our approach to race is one example of that.”
Van Dusen said that making a show that reflects the world we live in was important to him and his Shondaland collaborators from the start.
“Even though we’re set in the 19th century, we wanted modern audiences to relate to it and we wanted to audiences to see themselves on screen, no matter who you were,” the “Bridgerton” showrunner said. “And that’s something that having worked in Shondaland pretty much my entire writing career, it’s something that we do, ever since I worked on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ And we always cast the best actors for the roles in ways that represent the world today. And we knew that we’d have a similar chance to do the same thing here with ‘Bridgerton.'”
“Bridgerton” launches Thursday on Netflix.
TV Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jmaasaronson