As A South Asian Woman, Seeing Two Darker-Skinned Women On Bridgerton Means Everything

Image courtesy of Netflix
Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran in Bridgerton Season 2
The day we've all been waiting for – March 25, when Bridgerton Season 2 premieres on Netflix – is so close we can almost taste it.
Front and centre in those photos is the show's new female lead, Kate Sharma, played by Sex Education actor, Simone Ashley. When Ashley's casting was announced in February last year, it was celebrated as an important moment for female South Asian representation in television.
But Ashley and fellow British Indian Charithra Chandran (her on-screen sister Edwina) joining the show is more significant than a celebration of two brown women getting airtime on screen.
Growing up as the daughter of Fijian-Indian immigrants, I recall older relatives constantly commenting on my complexion. "You've become so dark in the Australian sun," I'd hear. "Try and stay in the shade." Another comment I heard about so many other South Asian women was along the lines of, "Did you see who he married? She's so dark."
I'm a relatively lighter shade of brown and I acknowledge that I have fair-skin privilege compared to many of my South Asian friends with darker skin tones, who regularly face comments like these. They're constantly made to feel ugly and 'less than' because of their complexions.
Image courtesy of Netflix
Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey in Bridgerton Season 2
Sri Lankan Australian actor Menik Gooneratne says that casting Ashley, the daughter of Indian Tamils, not only attempts to address a lack of South Asian representation, but also challenges the community’s damaging beauty ideals reflecting colourism – where fairer complexions are viewed as more worthy than darker skin tones.
“At times, it seems like when we talk about the need to increase Asian representation, [us] South Asians are often overlooked," Gooneratne tells Refinery29 Australia. “So, to see this kind of representation, not only on a popular Netflix show, but in a genre which has typically been devoid of Asian faces, is very important.
“Being ‘unfair and lovely’ myself and having personally experienced colourism in this industry, it is incredibly validating to see this casting choice on Bridgerton."
The actor, who played Neighbours’ first South Asian Australian matriarch Priya in 2011, mentioned ‘unfair and lovely’ in reference to the widespread culture within South Asian communities that values fairer complexions and skin lightening products such as ‘Fair & Lovely’.
When talented South Asian women have been cast in Hollywood, they have predominantly been fairer-skinned. Examples include Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Freida Pinto. However, casting Ashley and Chandran in Bridgerton acknowledges that South Asian women with darker complexions deserve screen time and are just as beautiful and worthy of finding love.
Discrimination based on skin tone is a reality within many South Asian communities and impacts employment prospects and relationships in India. In 2019, a photo of Miss India pageant finalists sparked backlash, as all 30 women pictured appeared to be fair-skinned and with similar features.   
In 2020, consumer goods manufacturer, Unilever, announced it would rename ‘Fair & Lovely’ in order to be a more “inclusive vision of beauty”. The product is primarily sold in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Middle East. 
Mindy Kaling’s Netflix show Never Have I Ever was applauded in 2020 for starring Canadian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan – also of Tamil heritage – in the lead role. However, the addition of Ashley and Chandra in a period drama such as Bridgerton takes such representation “to another level”, says Gooneratne. 
“To see this happen on a show [Bridgerton] that firstly does not have South Asian decision-makers at the helm, and then is one of the most successful shows in Netflix history, takes this movement to another level entirely,” she says. “And it’s glorious to see!” 
Her view is shared by many fans of the show, who have praised the casting decision on Twitter.
Gooneratne’s own connection to Bridgerton may not be known among all of Lady Whistledown’s avid followers. The Aussie starred in Peter Jackson’s 2018 film, Mortal Engines, alongside Regé-Jean Page who portrayed heartthrob Simon Hastings in Bridgerton’s first season.
Last year she made a bold statement about her South Asian heritage by arriving at the Emmy Awards in a traditional Indian lehenga.
Meanwhile, Bridgerton season 2 will follow Lord Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) as he sets out to find a suitable wife. With his impossible standards, he's not in much luck until he crosses paths with Kate Sharma (Ashley) who's arrived from India with her younger sister Edwina (Chandran).
As Sharma discovers that true love is not necessarily at the heart of the eldest Bridgerton sibling's intentions, she vows to stop the union. But as we all know from Season 1, it's always a bit more complicated than that.
Bridgerton Season 2 premieres on Netflix on March 25.
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