B-L-A-C-K. It’s a word that’s only one syllable and five letters long, yet in the last 12 months, it has been plastered across the face of Western media thousands of times. But, what does it mean to be a black woman, specifically?
In this article, we shall delve into the deepest depths of the presentation of black women in Western media and how this reflects the way we are viewed in society today.
Bridgerton? BRIDG-ing the gap between absolutely nothing.
Let’s look at Bridgerton — Netflix’s popular drama series set in the Regency era in England. Chris van Dusen — creator, executive producer, and showrunner of the series — claimed that he “wanted to explore real topics like gender and class and race and sexuality — topics that are relevant”. He also affirmed that he believes he has “been able to do that with this show”¹.
However, I thoroughly and wholeheartedly disagree. Throughout the show, viewers are subjected to watch those black female characters scattered in the background, merely used as circumstantial props to fill a race quota.
Undeniably, the composition of white and black characters in the series is a perfect representation of what can be seen in Western society today.
In the UK, white citizens are positioned at the centre of society and British culture, while their black counterparts are left on the periphery, orbiting a community where they are never wholly embraced.
Linking to this idea of Bridgerton standing as a modern-day microcosm for society today, as the series progressed, it became evident that colourism was also a massive issue in this production. The vast majority of female black cast members who were somewhat in the forefront of the action and did have a speaking role were noticeable of a medium-light complexion. This was the case of Queen Charlotte and Genevieve Delacroix.
Undoubtedly, this was no coincidence. From my perspective, the reason why the creators of the Netflix series opted for biracial/lighter-skinned black women was because of their inclination to appease white audiences. They offered a ‘digestible’ version of a black woman.
In this sense, it can be said that their choice implores not only colourism but also featurism. Black women with stereotypical Afrocentric facial features, such as dark skin, a broad nose and full lips, are not deemed as ‘relatable’² enough by white audiences.
This is ironic since, for centuries, black women have been subjected to watching productions solely made up of a white cast. Yet, they are still expected to relate to the characters’ emotional journeys even though the colour of their skin is different to their own.
We’ve seen this before.
Unfortunately, Bridgerton’s use of lighter-skinned black women to represent the black community as a whole is by no means an isolated event.
We can also see colourism and featurism operating within Neil Burger’s 2014 film production of Divergent. In the book series, the author Veronica Roth describes the character of Christina as being “tall, with dark brown skin”. But, the movie director chose to cast Zoe Kravitz, an actor with a light complexion and mixed heritage, to play the role.
The same can be said for Hermione Granger from the famous Harry Potter series. She was described by J.K. Rowling as being “very brown” in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Despite this, Emma Watson, who does not best fit this description, was chosen to play the role.
While said actors’ skill and heritage must not be ignored, it is incredibly harmful to darker-skinned black girls to grow up consuming only Hollywood’s acceptable version of themselves.
For their mental health and general wellbeing to flourish, it is important that they understand that they are: relatable enough, worthy enough and beautiful enough to be depicted in positive roles within modern media just as they are.
This blog contribution was made by Taneisha Moore.
Although Taneisha is originally of Jamaican heritage, she has lived in London for all 18 years of her life. She is currently studying English Literature, History and Economics at A-Level and looks forwards to pursuing her dream of studying English at university later this year. Naturally, she loves reading — especially 20th-century American literature.
Additionally, Taneisha works as an English Language and Literature tutor part-time and became a content creator for the LMF network in 2021.
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 Valentina Valentini, Shondaland: Get to Know the Brains Behind Shondaland’s ‘Bridgerton’ Series, Showrunner Chris Van Dusen
 Khadija Mbowe: Race-baiting, queer-baiting, colourism, featurism and performative diversity
 Blake Edwards, University of Mississippi: Acting Black: An Analysis of Blackness and Criminality in Film