It's hard to watch the trailer for Netflix's new period drama and not wonder: Who plays Simon in Bridgerton? The romantic lead for the first season of the new Shondaland series is none other than Regé-Jean Page. The 30-year-old British actor previously starred as Chicken George in the History Channel's 2016 Roots miniseries, and worked with Shonda Rimes on the short-lived ABC legal drama, For the People. Now, Page is tackling the role of Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, in the Netflix adaptation of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton novels.
Bridgerton has drawn many comparisons to Sanditon, the Masterpiece miniseries based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel of the same name. Both series are based on books and set during the Regency era, the short period in the early 19th century when England's future King George IV ruled the British empire as his father's regent But more importantly, both series feature ethnically diverse casts.
In the case of Sanditon, Ordeal by Innocence actress Crystal Clarke — who is of Trinidadian and Guyanese descent — starred as Georgiana Lambe, a Caribbean heiress whom Austen described as being mixed-race. Now, Netflix's Bridgerton features Page, a mixed-race actor born in Zimbabwe, as the Duke of Hastings.
As we saw in 2015, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast Noma Dumezweni as the grown-up Hermione Granger, it's a huge deal to cast an actor of color in a previously white role. A viral Tumblr post about "bowls of main characters" explains the concept perfectly: casting a white person to play a hero of color further reduces an already scarce population, but doing the opposite hardly diminishes the overall pool of white heroes — because there are so many to choose from — and bolsters the visibility and influence of heroes of color.
It's also remarkable that Page will play Simon opposite white actress Phoebe Dynevor's (Younger) Daphne. Interracial romance movies and TV shows featuring Black heroes and white heroines are incredibly rare, and the failure to cast men of color as romantic leads is not a bug, but a feature in Hollywood. As Today reported back in 2005, the rom-com Hitch cast Eva Mendes as Will Smith's love interest because "a black couple would have put off worldwide audiences, whereas a white/African American combo would have offended viewers in the U.S."
Speaking with The Guardian earlier this month, Page said Bridgerton was "a glamorous, ambitious Cinderella fantasy of love and romance," adding: "I don’t know why you wouldn’t invite everyone to come and play in it, especially since we’re serving a global audience on Netflix. It takes so little imagination to include people, as opposed to how much thought and effort it takes to keep people out of these stories."
Shondaland's Bridgerton is streaming on Netflix beginning Dec. 25.