Subverted Dramatic Account of the POC Period of “The Spanish Princess”

Starz’ The Spanish Princess– starring Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon in a British-American period drama limited series developed by Emma Frost and Matthew Graham – was a fun ride for me both as a Tudor historian of armchair and fan of Catherine of Aragon.

We so rarely watch the early years of the Infanta-turned-Queen of England, so despite being based on a series of novels that are, let’s just say, historically flimsy, I was excited to see how the series would progress. I found that despite all the dramatic changes, it was worth it not just for the acting and the great outfits, but because of the way Frost and Graham shaped Lina’s character.

In the show, Lina de Cardonnes, played by the beautiful Stéphanie Lévi-Jean, is a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. She is a black noblewoman who is Catherine’s friend, adviser and lady. When the character was first introduced in promotional material, I was both excited and nervous. Most period dramas, whether historical or fantasy, do not address race or attempt to include meaningful racial diversity. My fear was that Lina would be visible but mostly pushed into a supporting role.

Fortunately, I was so wrong. Although Lina’s race is never ignored, she has a lot to do with the story. She is the most important of Catherine’s ladies, and although Lina is supportive of Catherine and her goals, the story also allows her to have her own passions and motivations.

This is especially facilitated by his relationship with the Moorish soldier, Ovideo (Aaron Cobham). The series places them in a tender, loving relationship that is challenged by internal and external forces. Lina is a noblewoman and is expected to marry a Tudor man to further cement the alliance between Spain and England. Ovideo is Muslim and Lina is Catholic. Lina is loyal to Catherine, but Ovideo is loyal to their relationship above all else.

Lina is not hypersexualized but neither is she transformed into an asexual object of pure giving either. Through his relationship with Ovideo, we see them share moments of passion and tenderness. The romance between them is tender and loving, but also thoughtful, with a natural conflict that has nothing to do with their race.

When I spoke to Frost and Graham, they talked about wanting to use this series to shed light on the myths of what racing would have been like at that time.

“In a way, it was very simple,” Graham said. “We just approached her as a person. We had a backstory for her that was partly fact-based, but kind of an amalgamation of several characters from the story who were at Catherine’s court.

Rather than being transformed into a servant or a more servile character, they made Lina the daughter of a Morisco, the king’s adviser. The Moriscos were former Muslims and their descendants had converted to Christianity. Although race does appear in the series, the writers did not write the characters with this as a goal.

Because they chose this method, they could focus on what Lina would have been like as a noble woman, which is “a bit of a snob,” Graham joked, and her relationship with Ovideo becomes a story of conflict of class between two black characters of different status. Graham also said that their relationship is based on a historical relationship between one of Catherine’s ladies who fell in love with an archer named Ovideo, which gives it that extra bit of historical cuteness.

Although the two shows are very different, I couldn’t help but compare how Lina was written versus HBO’s Missandei. game of thrones, especially last season. This comparison has nothing to do with the acting, because Nathalie Emmanuel was incredible in the role and brought a lot of tenderness to it, just like Gray Worm (Jacob Anderson). However, The Spanish Princess reminded me of how low my standards for portrayals of Blackness are in period dramas.

It was a pleasure, despite all the savage inaccuracies, to see a period drama that took the time and attention to develop its black female lead – that she was treated with respect, dignity and grace by the screenwriters getting complete scripts that didn’t just include her male partner. But most importantly, despite all the white shenanigans at the end of the first game, Oviedo and Lina survive.

I texted my friend after watching this season and told her she had to watch this because I had never seen black people, let alone a black woman, treated this way in a medieval drama. Hell, even Gwen’s Merlin didn’t have it so well, and she must be the queen of Camelot. It is a testament to this show, but also an indictment of others.

So many period dramas take liberties with the story, sometimes very wild ones (I’m looking at you, PBS Victoria), and yet we accept them primarily as part of the process of crafting a historical story for a modern audience. Yet there is so much “historical accuracy” backtracking to the idea of ​​integrating thoughtful diversity into stories. Not only The Spanish Princess do it and do it well, but they chose to take advantage of the historical diversity of Catherine’s entourage.

I’m excited for the second part of The Spanish Princessthe last adventure in period dramas for a while, Frost and Graham tell me, because it did something so many shows fail to do: it tried.

(Picture: Starz/HBO)

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Edward K. Thompson