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  • Divya Vydhianathan

Visibility for the Viscountess: Why Representation Matters in Television

Anyone keeping up with entertainment news would know that season two of Bridgerton has taken over social media. The popular Netflix show is a fictional period TV series directed by Shonda Rhimes and based on the book series by Julia Quinn. Set in early 19th century London, Bridgerton follows the sons and daughters of London’s most influential families as they participate in the social season by attending dances in hopes of finding their future life partner, while also avoiding being the topic of the town’s gossip. The series follows the journeys of each of the eight Bridgerton children as they navigate the social season. The second season focuses on the eldest Bridgerton son, Anthony Bridgerton, and his love story with Kate Sharma. This season sends a clear message about how representation for women of color can be executed correctly.

Deconstructing Stereotypes in Hollywood

Season 2 introduced two new love interests, sisters Kate and Edwina Sharma. Their presence as the leads turned heads for many reasons.

First, the casting of Tamil-British actresses Simone Ashley (Kate Sharma) and Charitra Chandran (Edwina Sharma) as the main romantic leads helped South Asian women finally be seen as desirable on TV and not delegated as a nerdy outcast. For example, the first episode of season 2 shows younger sister Edwina being deemed the “diamond of the season”, or the queen’s choice as the most elegant young lady of the year’s social season.

Second, the show excellently deconstructs colorism. Ashley and Chandran both have darker complexions, so their casting as leads gives much overdue representation in the media for darker skinned actresses. Even in the Bollywood movie industry, only actresses with lighter skin are considered for love interest or female lead roles in a movie, while darker skinned actresses get cast as side characters or sometimes get completely ignored for a movie role. By casting them as the main characters and drawing no extra attention to their skin tone, the show is slowly deconstructing colorism in entertainment media and proving that beauty comes in all shades.

Proper Homages to Indian Culture

Finally, there were so many references to Indian culture that South Asians everywhere deeply appreciated. For example, Kate and Edwina’s last name in the show is “Sharma”, unlike the book where their last name is “Sheffield”, to pay homage to the characters’ Indian heritage. Kate, Edwina, and their mother Mary also wear lots of dainty, gold jewelry as many Indian women do, unlike the pearl or gem necklaces the other women wore. In episode 2, Kate was making Indian chai with her own spices and tea leaves while expressing her dislike for English tea, a character trait common among many Indian people.

One scene in episode 3 shows Kate massaging coconut oil into Edwina’s hair, which was so welcoming to watch since many Indians like myself grew up having our hair oiled by our mother or another older caregiver. Edwina calls Kate didi (older sister in Hindi), Kate calls Edwina bon (sister in Bengali), and both sisters call their mom Amma (mom in Tamil) and their late dad Appa (dad in Tamil) throughout the show. Kate wears English gowns and sometimes drapes herself in a shawl with patterns common in Indian sarees. In the beginning of episode 6, the background music is a classical violin rendition of the title song from popular Bollywood movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

A major example is in the 6th episode before Edwina and Anthony’s wedding when Kate and Mary apply haldi (turmeric powder mixed with water) on her body. A tradition common in Hindu weddings is the haldi ceremony, where the bride and groom are covered in turmeric paste before their wedding to signify blessings, new beginnings, good health, and to ward away the evil eye of those envious of you. The directors beautifully embedded Indian culture into a British period drama without using it to completely ostracize Kate and Edwina from British high society.

This season of Bridgerton was incredibly beautiful to me and many other South Asian girls and women worldwide who grew up being told that our features were “ugly and undesirable” just because they didn’t match Eurocentric beauty standards. Simone Ashley and Charitra Chandran proved that beauty and talent in the entertainment industry is for anyone with the skill set. The directors beautifully expressed Indian culture without leaning on offensive stereotypes or internalized racism, and overall gave so many young women of color representation that was mostly accurate and thoughtfully executed.


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