On December 28th, one of those no-man’s-land days in between Christmas and New Year, I awoke to see Agatha Christie trending on X. As a lifelong Christie fan, I was naturally intrigued but that curiosity was soon tempered on discovering a wave of tweets triggered by the fact that the BBC’s latest incarnation of a Christie classic, Murder is Easy, was headed by an investigator of Nigerian descent.
Triggered is the key word here. Tweeters were fuming that history had been so appallingly twisted to apparently suit a woke agenda that they allege is being pushed by the BBC. Calls for Auntie Beeb’s defunding and the scrapping of the licence fee followed fast.
Except in this instance, it isn’t history is it? It’s fiction, re-imagined for a new audience. What other purpose can there be to remake something, other than to give it a new spin? A fresh take? Yet there was no shortage of zealous posts calling such casting ridiculous given the time period and others more blatant in their racial overtones.
There followed a plethora of memes of white historical figures, both living and dead “adapted” for wont of a better word, to portray them as black. Why? Why are people so upset over something that is fictional? The questioning of colour-blind casting of historical figures I can understand and were the shoe to be on the other foot – imagine a white actor playing a key black historical figure such as Martin Luther King for example – there would rightly be an outcry. But fiction? Where is the harm in re-imagining something that was never fact? There is fear in these posts, resentment whereby they seem to perceive this as an attempt to disallow them from wallowing in nostalgia for a time when white British people were confident in who they thought they were, unhampered by any questioning of their inherent sense of superiority in the world.
But surely, if we are truly to aspire to live in a multi-cultural society that is fully integrated, these fears have to be faced, as do the unconscious and conscious biases that raise their ugly heads when threatened. The work of ‘White Fragility’ author Robin DiAngelo explains why these fears manifest themselves, likely because we still live in a largely segregated society where we are insulated from racial discomfort. When confronted with a racial trigger, the natural tendency is to either avoid, stay silent, or argue. These posts demonstrate the latter with clarity, more so because the matter in question is so trivial.
Another of my Christmas viewings has been a re-watch of Bridgerton, the larger-than-life multi-cultural re-imagining of Regency era London among the ton – society’s elite – where black and white are equally represented above stairs as well as below. The only thing accurate about Bridgerton is its class representation, the exclusivity of the ton and what it represented. The fact that titled society doyennes are from differing racial backgrounds is of no relevance. They treat each other equally, marry interracially without question or consequence, and live in relative harmony, unless their secrets are exposed by Lady Whistledown and they are shunned from society and shamed, just as equally, no matter their skin colour. That Bridgerton is so incredibly popular, gives us hope. And if it takes provocative casting of Agatha Christie re-makes to awaken others to their white fragility and inherent biases, then so be it.