The problem with period dramas

I love a good period drama – women in corsets heaving dramatically and men in tights posing strategically – some evening it’s just what I need to watch. All these people who lived in a time long ago having problems I can almost relate to doing things I can almost understand. And TV commissioners love them because people watch them and they are relatively cheap to make. And of course if you commission a TV drama then there isn’t any need to have any sort of diversity in the show it’s set int he past and everyone in the past was white.

You have the random anomalous exceptions – the excellent movie Belle being one, that random Jazz singer in Donwton Abby being the other (I remember when such a huge deal was made about him. He was in it for something like 3 episodes – this is not something to applaud), and truthfully I can’t think of any more. There probably are a handful more but none that I can remember have any sort of Asian representation (and in this case I mean all of Asia – East and West). I haven’t ever seen a brown person in a period drama – and frankly it has been ages since I have seen a brown person in a contemporary TV show playing someone other than a terrorist. As for an East Asian actor? Nope – not in any period drama I have ever seen.

Unlike what people like to believe immigration did happen and people of colour were doing things back in the day – just as they are doing things other than being foil for the white people in their lives right now. Many of your must have heard about the troubles facing Marvel’s Agent Carter – a show with a great premise set in 1940s America with a brilliant cast headed by a woman – but there isn’t a person of colour in the show. And this case caused huge problems and while the fall in ratings can’t solely be due to a lack of diversity it is definitely a contributing factor. More than that, the conversation generated by this lack has been so negative and it hasn’t been helped by people trying to defend the show. When I say this, I am looking at Tamora Pierce. According to her ‘blacks’ (her word not moine) in the 1940s were all servants and isn’t it better to have no representation than have every black person be a servant?

Firstly, what an idiot. No, ‘blacks’ as she calls them were not all servants in the 1940s. Secondly this is a fantasy show. It’s isn’t real. As a fantasy writer herself she should know that with fantasy you can do what you like. It’s fiction, make-believe, and NOT REAL. While many period dramas claim to be based on fact the plain and simple fact is that they aren’t. It’s a period drama and the clue is in the name. If it was completely factual then it should be called a period documentary. With period documentaries I can understand if there is no diversity, but with period dramas I can’t.

And this is why I am fed up with so much of what is on my TV right now. This is also why Channel 4’s newest landmark period drama Indian Summers is something I am cautiously looking forward to. Set in India at the beginning of the downfall of the Raj, it has brown people in the show not being terrorists. This is good but I do suspect it to be a very ‘yay go English’ script in that it will show the white colonisers in a very good light. It’s  something and I hope it’s a good something.

To anyone in TV reading this – make sure that what you make has a diverse cast. Too often period dramas are an excuse to not have to do anything different or new. Don’t be that person. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.


  1. LycraLover 10th February 2015 / 10:48 am

    Your argument makes good sense. TV shoukd challenge, rather than support the status quo. Truth is far more interesting than fiction.

    • Rosh 10th February 2015 / 9:56 pm

      Completely agree with that. Truth is always far more interesting.

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