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Netflix drama Bridgerton under scrutiny over depiction of rape scene: ‘This is not romantic’

*Spoiler / trigger warning* Scene in sixth episode of the Netflix series accused of romanticising nonconsensual sex

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 29 December 2020 21:16
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Netflix’s new period drama Bridgerton has come under fire over a scene that critics have said highlights a “glaring consent issue” in the show.

The Shonda Rhimes-produced series, described as a light and “fluffy” bit of entertainment for the Christmas holidays, follows two high-society families as their daughters enter the competitive marriage market.

During the show, main character Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) arranges a fake courtship with the brooding Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page).

The Duke has sworn never to marry or have children in order to end his family line for good, as an act of spite towards his abusive late father.

After the couple develop genuine feelings for each other, they marry, despite the Duke telling Daphne that he “can’t” have children.

A comment piece in Vox observes that the Duke’s use of the term “can’t” instead of “won’t” means Daphne, who has been given little to no sex education, is unable to give informed consent when they have sex, and does not realise what he is doing when he uses the “withdrawal” method.

When Daphne begins to suspect her husband, a scene shows her positioning herself on top of him during sex so he is unable to pull away.

Simon twice pleads for her to stop but she ignores him, and in the aftermath, the show’s narrative focuses on her own rage and sense of betrayal instead of Simon’s shock.

“The strangest thing about this moment is that I’m not sure the show’s writers consider this scene to be a rape scene,” Aja Romano writes for Vox.

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“One bad moment of uninformed consent does not justify a moment of nonconsensual sex. And depriving Simon of his consent to both sex and fatherhood, even at the moment of climax, is still rape.”

In the books upon which the series is based, author Julia Quinn’s scene is more clearly written as a violation of Simon.

The passage reads: “Daphne had aroused him in his sleep, taken advantage of him while he was still slightly intoxicated, and held him to her while he poured his seed into her.”

On Twitter, viewers have called out the show for failing to include a content warning over the scene, which they believe many could find distressing.

“Since I haven’t seen anyone else mention it, I feel compelled to say out loud that the Bridgerton Netflix series has a major CW. Reportedly, they DID NOT leave out the rape scene and did not address that event in the show,” one viewer wrote.

“This is just another reminder and psa, that #bridgerton has an onscreen rape scene of a black man. do be careful when recommending it to people and if you plan on watching it, be careful with episode 6,” another said.

Journalist Sabah Malik wrote: “I am really really sickened at how they completely brushed past a pretty shocking rape scene. Marital r*pe, forced sex - and then boom we just move on the next day. Super disappointing, the show was already kind of tough to watch.”

Others pointed out how the scene would likely have been treated differently if the roles were reversed.

“This is not romantic, this is spousal/marital r*pe, had the roles been reversed woke twitter would be boycotting this trash saying how it glamorises rape culture,” one viewer said.

The Independent has contacted a representative of Rhimes for comment.

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