You’d think after the backlash season one of Bridgerton endured for its callous treatment of marital rape, Shonda Rhimes and the Shondaland writers would learn. But, if you’ve watched Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, you’ll know the series has actually regressed.
I was as excited as the next person to watch Queen Charlotte.
I liked Bridgerton season one enough — though I am yet to forgive the show for letting Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) get away with sexually assaulting the only Black man in the ton, her husband Simon (Regé-Jean Page) — and I absolutely adored season two.
Giving us two Indian leads, played by dark-skinned Tamil women, who were both proud of their heritage, was incredible for me as a fellow brown gal. It was the representation a lot of us had been seeking (and lacking) on screen and I was impressed with its nuance and attention to detail, especially given how inconsistently race has otherwise been handled in the series.
I wish I could say Queen Charlotte had the same respect for its characters, but instead the series left me not only disappointed, but genuinely disturbed.
I am, of course, talking about Lady Danbury and the increasingly graphic scenes of marital rape she (and we) were subjected to.
To give you a quick recap, in Bridgerton, Lady Agatha Danbury (played by Adjoa Andoh) is a headstrong, wealthy and powerful widow who rules over the Ton and is a close confidante to the queen.
She and Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) are the only recurring Black women in the series — and it’s worth noting Lady Danbury is the only dark-skinned Black woman.
In Queen Charlotte, the first time we meet younger Agatha (Arsema Thomas), she is staring vacantly and slack-eyed at the ceiling as her husband, the much older and revolting Herman (Cyril Nri), violently thrusts in and out of her, causing her head to rhythmically bounce off their headboard.
While watching the graphic scene (which goes for longer than you think), I felt nauseous, jarred, but not necessarily angry — women were forced to have sex with their decrepit older husbands IRL, and I guess it had to be tackled eventually, right?
However, it’s immediately clear after the marital rape that we are supposed to find this all kinda funny, like some ill attempt at dark humour. After all, Herman is so disgusting it’s comical.
After he uses Agatha for his whims, she has a bath drawn where she scrubs Herman off her body and complains to her staff that they should have given her warning that he was coming.
Her ritualistic cleansing, repeated after every “session”, is reminiscent of how sexual assault victims IRL cope with being violated, and so it’s confusing to me why Agatha is not really written as someone who has been sexually assaulted and is dealing with that trauma.
Instead, she often laughs off Herman’s violations of her and seems to bounce back, completely unaffected by his advances, which we as the audience are also expected to move on from. It’s treated to be annoying but not traumatic — like someone’s dog humping your leg.
shonda did not just make me watch lady danbury getting raped in every fucking episode like what the hell #QueenCharlotte pic.twitter.com/dmNwGBtQ8W
— midead (@beys_dany) May 4, 2023
i mean 4/6 episodes and i think last two had a flashback but i‘m not sure but honestly it was too much. what pissed me off was that it was portrayed as some comedy bit like wtf
— midead (@beys_dany) May 5, 2023
After the first scene, jaunty, fun music plays as Agatha eyerolls and complains, and similar quirky music appears after the other (multiple) bouts of marital rape she is subjected to in the series, as if this is all some funny subplot.
We actually watch Herman assault Agatha in various positions in almost every episode in the series (four out of six, not including flashbacks), all of which are treated as funny, and none of which spark any dialogue in the show about consent.
Things get even grosser when (spoiler alert) Herman dies mid-thrust in yet another graphic marital rape scene — something which doesn’t seem to phase Agatha even a little. At this point, surely she is in a constant state of disassociation? But nope, it’s just the way things were back then, amirite?
Gross …. #j_watches #queencharlotte #queencharlottebridgerton #tvshows #netflix #booktok #fy #fypシ
The thing is, the show wanting to be realistic about marital rape seems out of place given we are expected to suspend our disbelief for other similar issues like racism and misogyny, which don’t really exist in the Bridgerton world.
These incessant rape scenes feel strange because of the show’s modern values — literally every other sex scene in the Bridgerton universe centres female agency and pleasure in a way that’s meant to be radical for its audience, and not at all “of the times”.
These hot, steamy, sexy, feminist scenes are what people like about Bridgerton — the show gives us the pining glances, flouncing gowns and biting dialogue we associate with historical fiction, without all the heavy bits that would remind us it was a pretty shit time for women and POC to exist in.
its still a very sensitive and disturbing matter to say at least whether its on regency or modern era..
— 💜Zjq💞Khs💞SA💜KanthonySupremacy (@eunnie201) May 4, 2023
Given this modern reimagining of relationships, it makes no sense that some things like marital rape are still treated as just “of the times”, even while other issues are conveniently forgotten for the sake of the audience.
It also leaves a sour taste in my mouth that Lady Danbury is the only female character to be graphically used like this, and the only dark-skinned Black woman. It’s giving colourism, something Shonda Rhimes — who is involved in the writing for every episode — has already faced accusations of.
While Agatha does eventually get to have a positive sexual experience, the way Queen Charlotte seems to relish in showing all the times she didn’t seems insensitive and weird given this is created for a progressive, mostly female audience.
The whole saga with Lady Danbury feels uncomfortable given the show’s bizarre depiction of racism — I’m really supposed to believe racism ended in Georgian England because the King married a light-skinned Black woman, yet not having marital rape is unrealistic?
The show’s shortcomings with race and sexual agency are truly tragic given the rest of the show is so damn good. Queen Charlotte (India Ria Amerteifio) and King George (Corey Mylchreest)’s explosive relationship and tragic ending is ~cinema~, and aside from these issues, I actually really enjoyed watching the show.
It’s this that leads me to think Queen Charlotte, and by extension Bridgerton, needs to figure out what TF it wants to be — either stay a fluffy, mostly apolitical show with racially blind casting that exists purely as escapist romance, or meaningfully tackle the racism and misogyny that affects characters in a setting that isn’t race-blind.
This inbetween situation doesn’t work — it just leaves issues handled unseriously and offensively, and weakens the show as a whole.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
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