Welcome to the Bridgerton Browntable!
This special roundtable interview piece features Brown women coming together to discuss the landmark casting of Simone Ashley as the female lead in the second season of Netflix’s runaway romance hit, Bridgerton.
Meha Razdan – Freelance writer, blogger, journalist, and period drama junkie
J. Deo – Author of stories featuring brown main characters, artist, romance addict
Medha Choudhary – Med student by day, period romance enthusiast by night
Angelitha Jayaraj – Communication student, professional consumer of trash romance
Moderator: Melissa Lee – Creative Director of Off Colour and romance enthusiast
QUESTION: Let’s get personal right off the bat. What, in your opinion, makes Simone Ashley’s casting so special in a series like Bridgerton? Does the ethnicity of the actress playing Kate specifically matter?
MR: I’ve grown up watching period dramas all my life, and especially as someone from the UK, they’re very much something I’ve always been surrounded with. I never saw myself or any Indian faces represented in that genre until literally last year (Dev Patel in The Personal History of David Copperfield) and this is the first time I’m seeing an Indian woman take the helm. That’s pretty huge! Plus Kate was always my favourite character in the books — I think her backstory as someone who’s treated as an outsider or overlooked by the ton gains a lot of really interesting and touching layers when you make her an Indian in colonial Britain.
JD: The casting of a dark-skinned Indian woman in the role of the main character of a huge Netflix series has Bollywood shaking (thanks, colourism). And yes, the bar is literally in hell, but this has me so excited and hopeful for the future. I love that Kate Sharma will pave the way for more joyful stories centred around underrepresented characters living their lives in historical settings unrelated to trauma, getting caught up in hot romances, and/or just having plain fun.
MC: As someone who’s read hundreds of period romances, I have always pictured the main characters as white — unfortunately, because that was what was represented in mainstream visual media. Having Kate being played by an Indian woman is amazing because it’s allowed me to reread the book Bridgerton S2 will be based on and picture her in that role. As much as I loved the book the first time I read it, getting to read it again and picturing someone who looks like me? That was amazing. It’s exciting to see a brown woman leading a Netflix series that has gotten so much attention, and this one step forward could lead to even more brown women in leading roles.
AJ: I have read and consumed more romance than anyone really should, and I can say with utmost certainty that I’ve never seen someone like Simone helming a story like this. Even in South Asian media, we rarely see women who are allowed to be darker than a paper bag. There’s the underlying message that dark-skinned women are unworthy of these epic, sweeping love stories and the happy-ever-after’s (HEAs) that come with it. Romances like Bridgerton can seem like fun, frivolous escapism, but it’s fun, frivolous escapism that everyone deserves. The fact that she’s been cast in a show on a scale like this is incredible, and it makes me feel very hopeful.
QUESTION: In a surprise move by Netflix, Kate Sheffield is now Kate Sharma! What, in your opinion, are the potential effects and impact of this change?
MR: I’m really intrigued by the possibility that it means Netflix is going to lean into embracing the character’s ethnicity and actively making it a part of her identity and story rather than just an aesthetic choice! It’s a kind of implicit acknowledgement that people of colour (POC) did actually exist in Britain at this time, despite what most period dramas would have you believe.
I have to point out that Simone Ashley is of Tamil origin, whereas Sharma is very much a North Indian surname, so I’m skeptical of the level of research going into this. They seem to have just picked an identifier that non-Indian audiences will know and be able to (kind of) pronounce. I’d love to see her in Indian outfits, with Indian musical motifs incorporated into the score. Wishfully thinking, I’d love it if they played homage to classic Bollywood romance tropes (think dupatta-caught-on-guy’s-wrist). But yes, I think it’s important to be aware that there’s likely to be some cherry-picking of Indian culture going on, which speaks to a lack of Indian input behind the scenes.
JD: I agree with Meha completely. I like the name change because now it can’t be ignored, but I suspect they decided on Sharma before they cast Ashley, and I doubt they understood how the last name no longer worked. I worry the show will pull a “that’s enough Indian rep for today I think” and not hire Indian crew members behind the camera/in the writers’ rooms, where it’s arguably most necessary. Those are the roles that could add those genuine touches to the character. For example, I would die for Indian stylists and designers who could dress Kate well.
MC: It’s exciting to see them, first of all, cast a brown Desi woman as Kate, and then to embrace that by changing the character’s last name. So instead of “here’s a woman of colour (WOC) in a role”, it makes it seem like they’re embracing that this is an Indian woman in regency era Britain. I’m also hopeful that embracing that change will lead to Indian stylists and we get to see either period drama clothing that is influenced by Indian style or even Indian clothing — can you imagine the lehengas and maang tikkas?
However, I’m doubtful about whether they’ll do that. It could be that hiring Ashley and changing the character’s last name is all they decide to do and think that that’s enough, but I hope not. As Meha and Jade have said, it’s really important to hire Indian people as crew members and behind the scenes to get the real feel of “here’s an Indian woman representing other Indian women”.
AJ: The first season gave me the impression that because Bridgerton is set in a world where race is almost a complete non-issue, they wouldn’t try and incorporate it into their storytelling. It would be a lazy excuse to not have to do more research than what’s necessary, but it’s what I’m used to. The surname change makes me hope that they’ll choose nuance over palatability. If they can do that, the possibilities would be endless.
Everyone else has already pointed it out, but Bridgerton using popular Bollywood tropes would actually take me out. I’m also very excited about the costuming potential. They’ll have to hire Desi people to dress the Sharmas, though. I will never forgive Hollywood for what they did to the Patil twins of Harry Potter. I do think it’s important to note that Ashley is Sri Lankan Tamil, while Sharma is traditionally a North Indian surname — so there’s definitely room for improvement.
I’d love to see Kate in Indian outfits, with Indian musical motifs incorporated into the score … I’d love it if they played homage to classic Bollywood romance tropes (think dupatta-caught-on-guy’s-wrist).
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the central couple of the second season, Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) and Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey)? What about their dynamic or relationship stands out to you? Is there anything in particular from Julia Quinn’s book The Viscount Who Loved Me you are especially hoping to see in Netflix’s screen adaptation?
MR: Well, I’m obsessed with them. Anthony was far and away from my favourite character when I watched the show, and their book is definitely the best one in the series in my opinion. I’m a sucker for antagonism-turned-romance, and I love the way they start to open their vulnerabilities to each other behind all the barbs and banter. They’ve got a lot of similarities in their relationships with their siblings and the effect their parents’ deaths have had on them that means they understand each other even if they dislike each other. I’m obviously dying for the iconic scenes from the book, like the Pall Mall game, or her hiding under his desk. But I’m most excited to see the chemistry between the actors on screen and how the emotional intimacy and tenderness start to unfurl between two pretty hot-headed and headstrong characters.
But also, yes, the steamy stuff — let’s be real.
JD: I love their banter and tension. I only recently read The Viscount Who Loved Me but I could perfectly picture Ashley and Bailey in each scene having the same kind of chemistry and I’m even more excited now. I really hope they keep the scene where they first meet, with Colin being an absolute troll to his older brother Anthony. The Pall Mall game with the Bridgertons was a favourite scene of mine, as well as the more angsty scene when Kate’s insecurities come out around him. I do love my angst.
MC: Banter is my number one thing in any romance, and I like a little angst, and we get both with Kate and Anthony. Their book was easily my favourite out of the series and I just know Ashley and Bailey are going to do them justice. I’ve heard their chemistry reading was really good and I can’t wait to see them on screen. For scenes, the Pall Mall game is my number one. I need the Mallet of Death, and the glares, and the declaration of Kate as the winner. I also would love to see the scenes at the first ball with Colin and the realization on Anthony’s face that Colin played him. Basically, I’m really looking forward to any of the little rivalry scenes that lead to the deeper intimacy and knowledge of each other.
AJ: I could gush about Anthony and Kate forever. Their story is, hands-down, the best in the Bridgerton series. I adore their dynamic. They try to hate each other but there’s begrudging respect and an undeniable attraction that just won’t go away. When they get past their initial bitterness and misunderstandings, they recognize that they’re kindred spirits. They banter and argue, and they’re extremely stupid about their feelings, but they find so much comfort just being together. Ultimately, they know each other better than anyone else does and they fall in love anyway. It’s perfect romance fodder.
QUESTION: There’s a lot of fan speculation over whether Kate’s younger sister Edwina — described in the source material as the diamond of the season and the most desirable woman in the ton — will be played by a light-skinned brown girl. What are your thoughts on that?
MR: A lot of the excitement around Ashley’s casting was that she was dark-skinned and as the lead of a romance, which meant she’d be celebrated as beautiful and desirable. I think it would be extremely upsetting to fans who rallied behind this to undermine that by playing into the colourist trope of equating lighter skin with beauty.
If the show did want to broach any kind of exploration of colourism, I’d be very skeptical after its treatment last season of Marina (Ruby Barker) — the show’s only WOC in a leading romantic role. Viewers of colour deserve to see their stories represented in fun, escapist narratives without constantly being bombarded with poorly handled depictions of racist trauma. I truly hope the show doesn’t decide to feed the already prevalent colourist trope, and I definitely do not believe that it’s a topic they’re equipped to handle very well.
JD: It could be done but would require Bridgerton to actually engage with colourism and not let it go uncritiqued, and like Meha, I’m quite skeptical that that would happen. That would require some pretty nuanced discussions in the writer’s room.
MC: I am very nervous about this and I agree with Meha that casting a light-skinned actress would be upsetting and that playing into the colorist trope would undermine all the excitement of having an Indian actress with darker skin. Not only would it undermine that, but it could also be damaging with this being a huge show on Netflix worldwide and even for people who aren’t necessarily thinking about the colour implications, it would be a subconscious message that this lighter-skinned person is more desirable than Kate.
AJ: That’s actually a huge fear of mine. Just going on what I’ve seen from season 1, I don’t think Bridgerton is capable of the kind of nuance that would be required to handle the discussion of colourism tactfully. Even if they could, I don’t really want to see a light-skinned Edwina being lauded for being more beautiful than Kate when that’s what we see all the time in the real world. I want to see a dark-skinned girl being loved and desired. It would be upsetting to watch her being put down for that very thing. The experience would definitely be soured for me.
UPDATE! Charithra Chandran is officially confirmed as our Edwina Sharma! Thoughts, feelings, opinions?
MR: It makes me so happy they cast a dark-skinned actress, and it really renews my faith in the way the show will approach the Sharmas. I have a younger sister myself, so from a personal standpoint the idea that a relationship between two sisters, who are brown women, will be at the centre of the show, is really exciting on a personal level. You don’t get to see family dynamics in Indian families explored in Western media a lot, especially female-centric relationships, so it’s a great sign on that level as well.
JD: I’m happy Bridgerton cast a dark-skinned actress to play Edwina, as I was anxious about the implications of her being the “prettier” sister otherwise — if the show uses that storyline, that is. I’m even more excited now to see these two sisters on screen.
MC: I’m really excited and glad to see the casting news. I was worried about the light skin versus dark skin implications it would have had if they had cast a light-skinned actress. I also think the two actresses look like they could legitimately be related, with Chandran having softer features that could be the reason behind her being the diamond of the season!
AJ: I am ecstatic. Edwina being light-skinned would have had really troubling undertones and I just don’t think the writers are prepared to deal with that. I’m still curious to see how they’ll explain Edwina’s abundance of suitors and Kate’s lack thereof, but I’m a lot more cautiously optimistic about it now. Outside of the comparisons with her sister, it’ll be really amazing to see a dark-skinned South Asian girl being touted as the diamond of the season.
QUESTION: And finally — infamously unhelpful, overweight Corgi, Newton. Yay or nay?
MR: The most important character in the second book other than Kate and Anthony. Netflix better tread carefully here because if Bridgerton messes him up I’ll never forgive them.
JD: Unhelpful? How dare you… after all he’s done for us — nay, after all, he’s done for society?
MC: Is this a trick question? The answer is obviously yes! There is no other acceptable response. I would argue that he’s even more important than Kate and Anthony, because where would they be without him.
AJ: Oh hell, yeah. He’s Anthony’s natural nemesis, and let’s face it. We all want to see him get knocked down a peg.