Bonnets and blackness - how period dramas are casting all colours

Jodie Turner-Smith takes on Anne Boleyn and Bridgerton backs diversity - we dive deeper into colour-blind casting...


Love a costume drama but a bit fed up that they leave little for black talent to thrive on? Well, you’ll be glad to hear there’s a new trend in TV where black people are not limited to playing the slave or the servant. See, for instance, Bridgerton, Shonda Rhimes’s Netflix production. The blockbuster show has made headlines for many reasons, not least because of how it has cast actors of all colours and creeds for the Regency-era drama.

Bridgerton casting

Colour-blind casting – liberating or limiting?

Great idea? For many it’s been a refreshing take on classic shows, allowing us to see actors play roles where race isn’t up for debate. The result is an alternative reality which toys with the idea of how a diverse nobility could exist in 1800s England. A frothy, fun-filled show to easily pass the time.

Critics, however, point out that casting without care for colour isn’t the glorious act of equality we are after. Many say it is dismissive, while others call it ‘dangerous’ to erase race – putting this attitude in the same camp as those who say ‘I don’t see race’. In an interview with the New York Times, Bridgerton’s showrunner Chris Van Dusen refuted this idea. “That would imply that colour and race were never considered when color and race are part of the show,” he explained. This article on Vox investigates this more.

All hail the new black Tudor queen

Whichever side of the debate you fall, it’s worth noting that Bridgerton is not alone in its method of doing things more diversly. New pictures dropped recently of Jodie Turner-Smith looking incredible in her role as Anne Boleyn, Henry VII’s infamous wife. It’s not every day you see a black woman dressed in full Tudor garb. But get used to it is the message from the new three-part thriller coming later this year to Channel 5.

Speaking about taking on the role, the star of Queen and Slim, said: "I am so excited to join these exciting filmmakers in bringing the story of one of history’s most controversial queens to the screen. Delving deeper into Anne Boleyn’s immense strengths while examining her fatal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, Eve [Hedderwick Turner]’s scripts immediately captured my imagination.

"In the hands of Lynsey Miller, the legend of this formidable queen and fierce mother will be seen as a deeply human story that is still so relevant for today. I look forward to bringing my heart and spirit into this daring retelling of the fall of this iconic woman."

Jodie Turner-Smith
Jodie Turner-Smith

It’s not just Jodie in a colour-blind role. The ensemble cast includes I May Destroy You star Paapa Essiedu as Anne’s brother George Boleyn. And it’s not the first time an actor from a BAME background has played the role of the ill-fated queen either. Anglo-Indian actress, Merle Oberon took her on in the 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII.

So it might not be new, but colour-blind casting looks like it’s gaining more momentum, and is here to stay. What are your thoughts?

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