Bridgerton and the Backlash

Posted on December 31, 2020


Heavens! The pearl clutching over diversity in a fictional saga based in London, circa early 1800s by popular American author Julia Quinn. But do indulge me gentle reader, before I delve into the scandal over Bridgerton by some faint-hearted viewers of the Netflix hit.

Shall we take a trip down memory lane, where moviegoers were treated to thespians inhabiting “the other” thus so:

Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Maggie Smith in Othello 1965

Or this:

Mickey Rooney in “yellowface” fake buckteeth and all for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s

And this:

Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn made up to appear Chinese in the 1944 film Dragon Seed

Scene from the film The Birth of a Nation with a white actor portraying a stereotypical black brute character. Please note that in this movie, the Klan are depicted as the good guys (eye-roll).

And on television, American viewers were treated to this:

Actress Nancy Kwan and Actor David Carradine from the 70s Western KUNG FU, which was written by the late great Bruce Lee. Lee hoped to star in the show, but was denied in favor of a white actor portraying the biracial lead.

So gentle reader, excuse me if I don’t get too worked up over seeing actress Adjoa Andoh like this:

Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, in the period drama Bridgerton

I mean, how dare Shonda Rhimes stoke the fires of scrutiny by placing people of color in positions traditionally and historically reserved for whites! Why, its almost as bad as Kathryn Stockett having know nothing Skeeter lead a motley crew of older black maids during the height of the civil rights movement to write a book. A book! Everyone knows a book is better than actually marching for Freedom. Skeeter had to push them, as one reviewer stated “To their full potential.” Yes, that’s an actual quote. I’ll link to it shortly. Gentle Reader, I’ve circled back to the point of this entire blog, which is my critique of The Help, a book that ignored real history in favor of antebellum myths and black caricatures, and was lauded as well as loved for it. So excuse me if I don’t get all weepy eyed about Queen Charlotte being portrayed by a black woman, especially since some historians believe she was of Portugese and African descent.

So when a novelist named Alexandre Dumas, whose dad was this man:

Painting of French General-in-Chief Thomas Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie 1762-1806 father of novelist Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas

Ends up being played by French actor Gerard Depardieu, or Angelina Jolie can portray bi-racial Mariane Pearl, just because, well, she’s ANGELINA JOLIE duh. Why can’t one just enjoy (or not) the fictional tale of Bridgerton with a fictional black Duke and an assortment of other POC as aristocrats?

Read more here:

Bridgerton Official Teaser Trailer by Netflix Nov 2, 2020:

Is Bridgerton Based On A True Story? The Origin Explained | Netflix

And for all those who say, “Well what about The Wayan Brothers in White Girls, Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, Anna Diop as Starfire in TITANS, Candice Patton as Iris West in The Flash, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four. . . This PC crap has got to stop!”

I could do an entire post on black characters who were changed to white (Kevin Spacey’s character in Pay it Forward is but one example), but what about the white actors and actresses who got to play and still get first dibs on portraying other races, for DECADES?

For Example:

Anthony Hopkins in The Human Stain, where he portrayed Coleman Silk, a black man passing for white. Wentworth Miller, who had to show his birth certificate to prove he was biracial, portrayed the younger version of Coleman.

Warner Oland as Chinese Detective Charlie Chan in the Charlie Chan series

Paul Muni and Luise Rainer as Chinese farmers in The Good Earth 1937

Earthsea (2004) while the novel by Ursula Le Guin featured characters of color, the TV version made most of them white, to Le Guin’s very vocal dismay. This brings me to the Publishing Industry, which still has an issue putting POC on book covers. See these posts for more:

A Whitewashed EARTHSEA: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books by Ursula Le Guin

Anyway, back to white people can play anyone:

Jeanne Crain as a light skinned black woman in Pinky 1949.

Christopher Walken as Feng in Balls of Fury 2007

Tony Randall in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao – 1964

Mel Ferrer in 1949’s Lost Boundaries, portraying a black man (real person Dr. Albert C. Johnston) passing for white. For more on the real Albert C. Johnson, see this article:

Ava Gardner in Showboat 1951, when Lena Horne lobbied for the role but casting her was considered too controversial.

2012’s Cloud Atlas

Othello was also portrayed by Orson Welles in blackface

The Teahouse of the August Moon, 1956 – Marlon Brando portrays a Japanese man named Sakini

Marlon Brandon as Sakini

Shirley MacLaine as a Japanese Geisha in the 1962 film My Geisha

John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror 1956

Prince of Persia 2010 featuring Jake Gyllenhaal

Tony Curtis highly bronzed as Native American war hero Ira Hayes (real person) in The Outsider 1961

Burt Lancaster as Native American Jim Thorpe (real person) and also an Apache in the 1954 film Apache

Native American athlete Jim Thorpe and the actor who portrayed him, Burt Lancaster

Alex Guinness (Middle Eastern roles) and Peter Sellers (Asian)

Richard Burton as a half caste doctor in the film The Rains of Ranchipur

Audrey Hepburn as a Native American from the Kiowa tribe in The Unforgiven

Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu 1965

Robby Benson as a Chicano gang member in 1979s Walk Proud

Max von Sydow in Flash Gordon 1980 as Ming the Merciless

Peter Ustinov as Charlie Chan in the 1981 film Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen

Linda Hunt won an Oscar portraying a mixed race Chinese man named Billy Kwan in the film The Year of Living Dangerously 1982

Justin Chatwin as Goku  – Dragon Ball Z 2009

The Last Airbender – only one of the young leads was Asian (Dev Patel)

Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger 2013

Aloha 2015 Emma Stone was supposed to be a half Chinese, Native Hawaiian, Swedish character

2015 Pan Mara Rooney as Tiger Lily, a Native American Princess

2017 Ghost in a Shell Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt portray cyber enhanced Japanese droids.

Tilda Swinton, as the Tibetan Ancient One in the film Dr. Strange

Robert Downey Jr portrayed an Australian actor playing a black soldier in the comedy Tropic Thunder

Singer Julie London portrayed a black woman passing as white, in the film Night of the Quarter Moon. Natalie Wood played a biracial black woman in the film Kings Go Forth and Puerto Rican in West Side Story.

Debra Paget and Jeff Chandler portrayed Native Americans in Broken Arrow, 1950. Paget played Native American women in White Feather and The Last Hunt.

Not to mention the ones in blackface for comedic purposes, like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Al Jolson, Dan Duryea, Billy Crystal. And Judy Garland in the film Babes in Arms

Judy Garland in Blackface

Amos ‘n Andy were created by two white men

The creators of the radio show portraying Amos and Andy in blackface, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. They wrote and voiced the charcters on radio, which ran from 1928 until 1960.

Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel

Shirley Temple

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges in Blackface

Fred Astaire in Blackface (the film Swingtime), Bing Crosby, Doris Day wore blackface. Dan Akroyd in Trading Places, Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy, Ted Danson, Betty Grable for a musical number in The Dolly Sisters, Julia Hough as Crazy Eyes from Orange is The New Black

Julianne Hough dressed as Crazy Eyes(played by Uzo Aduba) for a Halloween costume.

Jimmy Fallon as Chris Rock . . .

I’ll be at this all day if I listed each and every white actor who portrayed a caricature of a POC simply because they could.

Making fun of other cultures was and still is so pervasive that regular folks continue to get in on the act. Megyn Kelly, formerly of Fox News actually had the nerve to ask what all the fuss was about on her now defunct NBC show:

“The final straw for Kelly on the NBC show came on Tuesday when, during a round-table discussion, she seemingly defended “blackface” and “white face” for Halloween because it was “OK when I was a kid as long as you were dressing like a character.”


For an earlier post on this issue featuring teachers and others who believed in blackening or browning their faces for fun, see this post:

For actual examples of Blacks in Britain during the 1800s, see this post:

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