[Guest Post] Period Drama Karens

Hello Stitch’s Media Mix readers! My name is Amanda-Rae Prescott (she/her/hers) and I’m a Black and multiracial fan of  period dramas, Doctor Who and other UK TV from New York City.

Racism in period drama fandoms can take many forms, but one form that’s very easy to spot are complaints from racists after new productions announce Black actors in traditionally white fictional character roles. Due to the success of Hamilton, Bridgerton, and other diverse-casted series, more production companies in the UK are adapting racebent or color-conscious casting. (Many of these series still have white writers and/or few Black people or other POC behind the camera, however, the UK entertainment industry is much further behind the US on this conversation for structural and population reasons.).

It’s easy for Black fans to miss these discussions online because these fandoms, with a few exceptions for mainstream fame, are outside traditional geek/nerd/fandom culture. There’s also an age gap to consider.

I’m a Millennial and the target demographic for traditional all-white period dramas are often Gen X or Baby Boomers. Gen Zs and Millennials have either created their own spaces in these fandoms or are missing from the conversation entirely.

Newer and more diverse productions are attempting to target younger audiences. The age gap is a key factor in the widespread racism in these fandoms, especially as the older generations still use Facebook as their primary social media platform. These racist viewers are angry their sure bet genre is no longer catering fully to their outdated ideas and aesthetics.

Masterpiece on PBS recently announced a new adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling with previous UK production partners Mammoth Screen and ITV network. This development is important because the Tom Jones miniseries is the first Masterpiece production to use racebent casting for lead roles vs. adapting existing novels/screenplays with Black characters, including Black biographical figures, or having random Black extras/ extras of color or supporting cast. Masterpiece’s executive producer previously announced one of its goals for future productions was to expand Black and POC representation. Racists in their audience clearly ignored these goals or thought their complaints were going to be taken seriously.

The second their viewers saw the stock headshot of Black actress Solly McLeod as the love interest, the Karens, Chads and Nigels (my term for British men who act like Karens) were off to the races on their Facebook page. This Link is a Web Archive as at least several earlier comments have been dirty deleted: /web/20210909155305/https://www.facebook.com/login/?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmasterpiecepbs%2Fposts%2F10158976451586234

Racist fans also take advantage of marketing/social media/PR professionals not having the time or ability to moderate comments.

When casting announcements are crossposted to fan-run Facebook groups and other social media spaces,  spaces, and groups, moderators fail to delete racist comments. In some cases, they will kick out Black fans who confront racists in the guise of “no politics” or “be nice” rules. These Karens fail to realize many period dramas ARE political because the authors of the original text and today’s screenwriters are using the plot to address social/political issues. It is impossible to discuss racism within these rules.

Here’s some screenshot examples of what myself and other Black fans have to deal with instead of being excited to see more people who look like us on screen. I replied to a few of these people BTW, but didn’t include those here. I also didn’t edit any of their spelling errors.

Screencap 1:

Commenter 1 uses the Austin Powers Dr. No gif “How about no”

Commenter 2: Please don’t change something wonderful. Just let it go.

Commenter 3: I have mixed feels about messing with literature to accommodate all races or religions. Unfortunately a large amount of English literature is around and other sources are to be discovered. “Adapting and reimagining” is redoing. Why not just create something new instead of altering a classic. Is it too hard for these people who must mess with greatness?

Commenter 4, replying to Commenter 3: a classic has name recognition and a built-in audience. The complaints come from people objecting to reimaginings that include POC. Please get over it.

Commenter 5 who replied to Commenter 4: Wow! 

The racists in this screencap are hiding behind “don’t mess with the canon classics”, “the book is better than the movie” and myths of “historical accuracy” to shut down diverse productions.

Tom Jones is a novel adaptation, the characters are fictional.

Race in casting shouldn’t matter.

Even if this was a biographical drama, racial history and politics do not have any immediate factor in this specific story. Karens often insist on judging period dramas the same as documentaries, especially those that do not have white characters.  The argument of whether race should be added to the character or not can’t be settled until we have more than 1 paragraph of summary to go on. By the way, commenter 4 is a white woman who can see through their excuses.

Screencap 2 has comments that are way more blatant about being racist which results in pushback for these Karens:

Commenter 6: Going WOKE bang bang emoji, sideeye emoji, frowning blink emoji

Commenter 7: It is yet another attempt to mix the races, never mind. I have no problem with people coming together in their private lives anyway they want to. However, I’m sick to death of the black/white indoctrination on every level. Commercials with white grandparents and black or brown kids. White father with black kids. If it happens because of love or adoption fine. But this is ridiculous. I’m quite sure most white, black, brown, or white people prefer children of their own race. That’s natural. If you don’t like my views, I’m sorry but it is what is. 

“Woke” as an insult is a massive red flag for racist discourse in fandom. Commenter 7 is a very blatant white supremacist who noticed that other racists were getting an edge in, so this Karen had to jump in too.

Racist Screencap 3:

Commenter 8: Why, Can’t think of something original?

Commenter 9: I sometimes think PBS tries too hard to show diversity. Every show MUST have gays, lesbians, interracial couples in the story.

Commenter 8 should know Masterpiece PBS’ bread and butter are literary adaptations. You would think that people who are supposedly avid PBS watchers would know this. Several other Karens also made the “no remakes’ ‘ complaint, but there are always far fewer complaints about new adaptations when the casts are all white. Usually the complaints are “the new actors couldn’t possibly be as good as [insert actor from the 1970s]’. The tone is clearly nastier in this post, as Karens are realizing Tom Jones isn’t catering to their main demand for escapism: all-white British elites in pretty costumes.

Commenter 9 is a Chad who also accidentally let the mask slip regarding their anti queer attitudes. LGBTQIA+phobia. Period drama fandoms, unlike many of the modern media fandoms Stitch discusses, do not have a majority of queer white fans controlling the discourse. However, the racist Karens may not immediately attack white queer fans unless they see Pride icons or positive discussions of queer period drama characters.

Racism persists in period drama discussions because this genre has been slower than others to establish an active antiracism ethos. White supremacists already obsessed with perpetuating historical myths have made period dramas another front in their culture wars.

Fandom spaces are often controlled by BNF Karens making it many times harder to confront racism. In addition, these spaces have also chased out potential antiracist allies through also allowing unchecked anti queer attitudes.

Screencap 4:

Commenter 10: This is just to accomidate racial culture and change the whole way the story was told and written…you are changing historical fiction to woke culture..it is very obvious and not realistic.

Commenter 11: More cultural Marxism why not just come up with a new story?

Once again, pretty obvious white supremacist speech here going unchecked except with a few laughing emojis. Notice that as the first few bigots showed up, this Karen and Chad felt free to slip in their crap.

Screencap 5:

Commenter 12: ffs. when will the madness end. real person or not, follow the book. Is their imagination so limited they can’t come up with a similar situation with different names and events. Tom jones sleeps around a lot. so is she going to be a slapper.

Commenter 13: No interest

Commenter 12 is clearly a Margaret (a British Karen) filled with misogynoir. Why is the Black woman immediately assumed to be a sex worker? Commenter 13 is a Chad repeating the same thing other people are in the hopes of getting likes for being racist.

As Hollywood and the UK entertainment industry continue to make strides in increasing Black representation on screen, it is more important than ever to discuss racists in period drama fandom. I have heard stories from several Black fans who told me they stopped participating in fandom after reading comments similar to those in the above screencaps. Even though period dramas were all-white in the past, Black fans still enjoyed them and related to the characters. Why can’t white period drama fans empathize with Black characters who are not in subservient roles? White fans spend years researching a specific hairpin Queen Victoria wore but they choose to remain ignorant on Black British and African American history. Black period drama fans should be able to discuss favorite episodes and find out about new productions without having the burden of reading racist hate speech from Karens and Nigels.

Amanda-Rae Prescott is a freelance journalist specializing in reviewing/reporting on UK TV premieres in the US. She is a regular contributor to Den of Geek and GBH Drama Club. She started by livetweeting Downton Abbey episodes on PBS on Twitter but realized that these fandoms can also be racist if you have the wrong people in charge of them. After numerous bans from Facebook period drama groups, she turned to Twitter to find community with fellow Black fans and white co-conspirators in antiracism efforts in these fandom spaces. She also used her existing journalism experience to diversify reviews of new period drama series. If you liked this article or are already a fan of UK TV shows, follow her at @amandarprescott on Twitter and her portfolio is  here. If you have extended comments and questions, this is her email form..


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