A new year, another blog and I’m still talking about Netflix’s Bridgerton. It was filled with beautiful costumes, modern bops turned into stringed adaptations that could be waltzed to, and full of the wonderful drama that makes romances so compelling. And yet, while Bridgerton wow-ed and awed in a lot of ways, it fell short in others. If you at all spend time reading reviews, then you’ll have noticed some pointed critiques that have been leveled at Shondaland’s latest binge worthy show. (Here’s a great overview from Vox, a great discussion by two Black journalists, and a more critical look by a Black librarian from BookRiot.) If you don’t feel like doing the deep dive, many of the critiques surrounding Bridgerton are this: people of color were included in the show, but they were mostly relegated to second-tier parts or their storylines contained significantly more trauma than their white counterparts. Ineye Komonibo sums it up well and captures a lot of my feelings: “Part of our job is to watch it [Bridgerton] critically. It’s supposed to be entertainment, and it’s supposed to be fun, but the representation aspect does matter a lot, too. There is no perfect show, but I think that as we grow, we understand that people who are creating content have to be a lot more intentional. We have to move past surface-level diversity.”
Bridgerton was a step in the right direction, and yet it fell short in depicting Black characters in a way that felt real and gave them agency. Whenever I find myself flailing around, trying to find something authentic, good, and real, I find it’s best to turn to stories and authors who can relate because they have those lived experiences. If you’ve stuck with me this far, I hope you’ll allow me a small digression. Over the summer, I attended (virtually) a panel of Asian-American authors and illustrators as they talked about bringing their works to life and how representation matters in children’s literature. It was fascinating and brilliant. But something that stayed with me is when the authors were asked “how do you pick an illustrator for your picture books?” They said without hesitation that they like to work with illustrators with similar backgrounds. Minh Lê was talking about his newest comic (Green Lantern: Legacy) and how working with comic book artist, Andie Tong was a dream because he included those tiny details that represent Asian culture: characters taking off their shoes in the house or a green ointment jar on the nightstand in the grandmother’s bedroom. “Oh I loved that,” chimed in Bao Phi. “My grandmother had one just like that!” Tong included the details that were inherent to an accurate and nuanced portrayal of an Asian-American teen.
As a white lady, I am going to miss the details. I missed a lot of the nuances of what made Bridgerton problematic. I’m not going to be able to parse out what is an authentic portrayal of Blackness or of the Asian-American experience or a good representation of a trans character because I haven’t lived those lives. But I want to know about them and read about them! I want to read books and watch shows that do that well. So while Bridgerton was not perfect, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t stories out there that are more perfect, that give you the fantasy, romance and the promise of a Happily Ever After plus great representation. If you’re still looking to be swept away into something more perfect, check out the reads below.
-Lauren Taylor is a Children's Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.