What the Latest Season of Bridgerton Can Teach Us About Representation

With sisters Edwina and Kate, we finally see on-screen South Asian women who aren’t tokenized

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The long-awaited return of the Shondaland hit period drama series has finally returned, and it did not disappoint. And when it comes to South Asian representation, Bridgerton must be celebrated for getting it right.

Growing up, I loved devouring many of the Jane Austen classics: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. But I never saw myself reflected in these stories—certainly not as a lead character or as someone who was the center of attention, being pursued in a love story. There seemed to be no place for someone who looked like me in those stories.

Until this season of Bridgerton. Here are three lessons marketers can learn on how to focus on the diversity of representation without tokenizing, and how to get it right.

Centering stories around South Asian voices

Two of the main characters in this season are played by South Asian actresses. Edwina Sharma is played by newcomer Charithra Chandran, and Kate Sharma is played by Simone Ashley (of Netflix’s Sex Education). Both Edwina and Kate are front and center, not sidelined into stereotypical sidekick roles supporting white actors.

Historically, Hollywood has excluded the South Asian community or reduced them to caricatures and comedic punchlines. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpsons, (voiced by Hank Azaria, who is not South Asian) was depicted as goofy and not very bright.

There’s also the caricature of Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory, who is portrayed as socially awkward and sexually repressed. With sisters Edwina and Kate, we finally see on-screen South Asian women who aren’t tokenized and forced into these character roles. They are both depicted as complex women.

And that’s empowering and affirming—and absolutely real.

Breaking through casting stereotypes

Marketing still has a problem with colorism. The preference for lighter-skinned, racially ambiguous models is still something we see on creative briefs and play out in conversations with agencies.

Critics accused Bridgerton Season 1 of colorism, where lighter-skinned Black characters predominantly held positions of power, while the darker-skinned Black characters were sidelined. This prevented purposeful inclusion for the Black community.

Bridgerton Season 2, however, breaks through casting stereotypes by including South Asian actresses who are not light or fair but darker-skinned. Within the Bollywood film industry, it is rare to see a dark-skinned Indian actor as the lead—lighter-skinned actors are seen as selling more tickets at the box office, while darker-skinned actors are deemed undesirable. In fact, the two lead Bridgerton actresses have experienced colorism themselves.

Focusing on the small details

Earlier this year, the Sex and the City reboot got a number of things wrong when it came to South Asian representation. Because when we rush to include representation, we don’t do the work; we just check boxes. We need to remember that these small details of cultural tradition matter and must be celebrated on screen.

Bridgerton leaves no stone unturned, starting with the correct use of Hindi language words like “Baap re,” which means, “oh my god,” and “Didi,” which means “elder sister.” We see the subtle scene where Kate puts cardamom in her tea. We watch the power of South Asian sisterhood unfold, with Kate applying oil and massaging Edwina’s head.

Throughout the season, we see the Sharma family’s heritage reflected in the details of what they wear—earrings, bangles, silk, beadwork and shawls. Finally, we see the preparation for Edwina’s wedding, where they apply turmeric paste (Haldi) before the big wedding day, which is a common Hindu ritual. We also hear in the background a song from one of the most famous Bollywood films, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

One of the forces behind Bridgerton Season 2 is Geetika Lizardi, the writer for the show who brought the Sharma family to life. “There’s a time when centering a season on an Indian lead would have been considered risky. Like servicing a niche. That time is long past,” said Lizardi.

“Authentically representing a specific culture is the best way to make a show feel universal. And centering your story on people who exist but aren’t usually seen is good business strategy as well as good storytelling. Moral of the story: Hire diverse talent and empower them to do their thing!”