August 14, 2023
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is a brilliant example of 21st-century storytelling. Part of its cleverness has to do with how it plays with facts. Even though Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is a Regency-era historical romance, it departs from the historical record in ways that are rewarding for a contemporary audience and therefore reveals something about the connection between creativity and meaning-making in the 21st century.
Both the official website of the British Royal Family and the Smithsonian Magazine offer the historically accepted versions of Queen Charlotte (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818). However, since Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story isn’t interested in facts, where do its sympathies lie?
One of the criticisms of Netflix’s version of Queen Charlotte is that she wasn’t black and racial-economic slavery made the wealth of the Regency period possible. This focus on the historical inaccuracies and slights of hand of the limited series is like being angry that your math teacher can’t teach you to write an English essay. It’s asking the wrong question and therefore missing what’s truly insightful about this series. Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is fantasy. It takes a real historical period and imagines a logic for why there are Black aristocrats. Essentially, it is working through what inclusion looks like in an elite predominantly white space, and you can’t get more elite than that British monarchy. Just ask Megan Markle. The audience of the Netflix series isn’t from the Regency era either. Rather, the audience is contemporary Americans living in a nation that is working through what inclusion and belonging look like in elite spaces and how people who aren’t white and privileged get access to those spaces, and why. Think of the recent Supreme Court case on admissions at Harvard University and UNC, Chapel Hill. Shifting our perspective to the present allows us to make sense of this cultural artifact so we can learn something about ourselves and our contemporary historical moment.
Once we stop asking a television show that isn’t attempting to teach us history why it isn’t historically accurate, we can now focus on what the show can actually offer us. One of the reasons why I like fantasy and science fiction written by Black writers from across the diaspora is that this writing explores other possibilities in different imagined universes. This literature works through questions like…