6 Times People of Color Appeared in Period Dramas and Proved That Talent Is What Matters, Not Skin Color

3 years ago

British period dramas have always been dominated by all-white casts, something that is gradually changing. Many people disagree with casting people of color in traditionally white characters saying that it is a distortion of history. However, “colorblind casting” isn’t an attack on white characters, but simply an opportunity for actors of color to portray characters and tell their stories.

Bright Side found 6 beautiful movies and series that saw past skin color and allowed traditionally white characters to be played by people of color.

1. Bridgerton (2020 — )

History describes the aristocratic Bridgerton family that lived back in the 19th century as all-white. However, in the Netflix series, the majority of actors are of color and high up in the social hierarchy. Never once were the race of the Queen, played by Golda Rosheuvel, or the interracial couple up for debate or criticism. The show itself shows a more respectful way that people of color can appear in period dramas, without necessarily being the victims.

Showrunner Chris Van Dusen has said that the show’s goal was to depict a world similar to the one we live in today. That’s why the show is not pure history, but also includes elements of fantasy. This can be seen throughout the first season where black people are succeeding in life without having anyone criticizing or questioning them. A loud example is Simon, the Duke of Hastings, played by Regé-Jean Page, who is mentored by an upper-class Lady who is played by Adjoa Andoh.

2. The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Even though Charles Dickens wrote the lead to be a white man, Armando Iannucci chose to cast Dev Patel, an actor of Indian descent, in this role. The reason he made this decision is because he felt that people today needed a fresher, more modern image of the character.

He realizes that the story takes place in 1840, when an Indian man would never have had such high status. As Dev Patel has said, this isn’t about racial accuracy but about universal relevancy. Dickens is loved all around the world and it’s important for people of color to see their own faces in these stories.

3. Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Josie Rourke was very clear when she took on the job as director of this movie. She wasn’t going to have an all-white cast. To her, it was very important to include people of color who had always been left out of period dramas. So she chose to cast a black actor, Adrian Lester, as the Queen’s ambassador, even though the UK National Archives make it clear that this wouldn’t have been possible.

However, we do know for sure that there were many black people in the UK during the Renaissance. So, in Rourke’s mind, her effort was a restorative work where the present meets the past. And that’s why she also chose to cast Jemma Chan, an actress of Asian descent, to portray Mary’s keeper.

4. Les Miserables (2018 — 2019)

When David Oyelowo was approached by the BBC to play the part of Javert, he was, at the very least, intrigued. According to his research, there were many black people during the story’s time that had prominent roles in society. Black people weren’t just servants and slaves.

Oyelowo also believes that his colorblind casting brought a wider audience to the show. More people of color felt closer and connected to the show simply because they saw someone like themselves in it. Also, it was a show that was closer to today’s society, where people of all colors live peacefully and equally.

5. Lady Macbeth (2016)

Lady Macbeth, portrayed by Florence Pugh, finds a loyal maid in Anna, a black woman played by Naomi Ackie. But, she isn’t the only person of color in the movie. Lady Macbeth’s lover is also quite dark-skinned. To be 100% accurate, these characters weren’t written specifically for white actors.

It is important to mention that during the 17th century, the population of black people in the UK was increasing. So, hiring a black maid would have been very possible. However, the casting director wants to make it clear that the film didn’t want to send any kind of social message. They were just trying to find the most suitable actors for their movie.

6. Sanditon (2019 — )

Jane Austen passed away in 1817, but she made sure to break new grounds before then. In her last novel, she included the first black wealthy heiress. The young woman, who was played by Crystal Clarke, appears to be wealthier than many of the white people she lives next to.

The actress has said that it’s very important that a woman of color was included in a period drama and not just for diversity. She adds that black people need to feel truly represented and have their stories and history being told.

Do you agree with colorblind casting? Do you think that it messes with historical accuracy or that it tries to bring equality?

Preview photo credit Bridgerton / Netflix


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