Bridgerton and why Asian representation in media matters

Reflecting on what the heroines of Bridgerton Season Two mean to me.


Just over ten years ago, I picked up an old copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from my high school’s library. Tucked away in the dusty section of shelves labelled “classics,” it was a short, thick book with tiny, dense text and earned many a sigh from my friends. I was a curious bookworm, so they received a shrug in return and a promise to update them if I gave up.

From page one, I was smitten. A smart marriage and the pursuit of a good (read: wealthy) husband were not concepts foreign to me while growing up in a South Asian household. On the contrary, it was an expectation set upon me at a young age by the women around me and the Bollywood media I ate up.

My love for the novel grew when I tracked down the BBC’s 1995 limited series. After that, I devoured anything I could get my hands on that was Austen-ish – movie adaptations, her other novels, other historical romance books, films and shows. I was obsessed, in the way only a teenage girl could be, with the measured, delicate approach to romance and the flowery confessions of love in the English countryside.

But there was one little problem–these were novels written in the 1800s, after all. As smitten as many other young people of colour and I were with the sweep-you-off-your-feet type love in these movies and stories, we would never be able to immerse ourselves in the story the way white readers could. Sure, there were adaptations like Bride and Prejudice, and Austen’s iconic enemies-to-lovers trope exists in many other works. But I knew that I would never see myself reflected in Austen’s high society. 

On March 25, Netflix released the second season of its hit show, Bridgerton. A saucy, scandalous Regency-era series, Netflix’s series is an adaptation of the nine-book novel series of the same name by Julia Quinn. The show reimagines the novels and British high society in an alternate-universe, racially-diverse England.

In season one, the audience follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her steamy, complicated romance with the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). Season two centers around the Sharma sisters–Kate (Simone Ashley) and Edwina (Charitha Chandran). The Sharmas visit England from India for the social season to secure Edwina a husband. But the plot isn’t the highlight for me–what’s more important is the intentional integration of Indian culture into this very Regency story.

Season two of Bridgerton doesn’t shy away from owning its South Asian storyline–the sisters use terms like “appa” (Tamil for father) and “didi” (Hindi for sister). Kate and Edwina are adorned by gold, distinctly South Asian jewelry, and their Regency-style dresses are in colours and prints that remind me of the gifts of clothing my late grandfather would bring to Canada for me. 

Kate makes masala chai and oils Edwina’s hair–and most notable to many diaspora fans was the “Haldi” ceremony before Edwina’s wedding. A special pre-wedding ritual, the Haldi ceremony involves the spreading of a turmeric paste on the bride and groom’s skin: it is believed, among many other things, to ward off the evil eye, beautify the skin, and purify the body. Far away from their homeland, the Sharma women practice a long-standing ritual that is incredibly culturally specific. As if the scene on its own didn’t tug at my heartstrings enough, a classic Bollywood song received a Bridgerton-style remake– Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. A movie about tradition, family, and legacy, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham will transport viewers, diaspora or on the subcontinent, back to their childhoods.

My relationship with my South Asian culture is a complicated one. My connection back to India and Pakistan were mediated through long-distance calling cards and the occasional visit from my late paternal grandfather.

But now, I can turn on Netflix and see the Sharma sisters. Beautiful, elegant, graceful, headstrong. Season two makes room for the weight of an older sister’s responsibility and burdens depicted alongside the intimate beauty of the Haldi ceremony. Finally, there was space for the Sharmas world I always felt excluded from–and not just as supporting characters or extras in the background, but as heroines in their own stories. And along with that, it was a reminder that my heritage and culture were meaningful and beautiful. Women who looked like me could have their Netflix love stories, too.

By no means is the series without its flaws. An escapist fantasy, the series has been criticized for glossing over the very real and exploitative relationship between India and England both economically and socially and its reluctance to address race. But it doesn’t have to be so black-and-white–representation without critique is a recipe for socially-acceptable tokenism, but enjoying this season, especially with the lack of South Asian (and dark-skinned South Asian) representation in contemporary western media. 

Bridgerton, Edwina, and Kate, a decade ago, may have made a young, starry-eyed Sabrina resent her skin a little less, feel a little less forgotten.


About Sabrina

Sabrina is an after-degree student majoring in Media Studies in the Faculty of Arts, with a keen interest in fans and fandom studies. When she's not knee-deep in coursework or pop culture news, Sabrina is an avid writer and moviegoer. In her free time, Sabrina can be found in the kitchen trying out a new recipe, or enjoying an afternoon curled up with her dog watching K-dramas.