Spoilers for Bridgerton on Netflix, ahead, as well as a trigger warning for sexual assault.
Netflix’s new historical romance series Bridgerton is certainly steamy and doesn’t shy away from sex. However, many on Twitter believe that one controversial scene depicting sexual assault stood out from the rest—and not in a good way.
Adapted from a series of romance novels, Bridgerton follows Daphne Bridgerton and Duke Simon Basset, whose fake romance blossoms into a real passion when they are forced to get married as part of a ruse. From the start, it’s not a sexual relationship based on informed consent and clear communication. Daphne doesn’t really know how sex works, and the Duke, unwilling to father children, tells Daphne that he “can’t” get her pregnant, as opposed to the truth: that he uses the pull-out method because he doesn’t want to have children.
Eventually putting two and two together, Daphne later initiates sex with herself on top so that the Duke won’t be able to pull out, even though he clearly does not consent and tells her to “wait” more than once.
In the book, as Vanity Fair explains, Daphne’s “plan” is a spur-of-the-moment decision, and her husband is drunk at the time. In the show, however, her act is premeditated and the Duke is more clear-headed, therefore able to voice his dissent. In either depiction, Daphne’s actions are clearly sexual assault, which is why many viewers are concerned that the series focuses more on the aftermath of the Duke’s lie, and not the rape.
Despite how discussions surrounding content have changed in the 20 years since the book came out, this pivotal moment already generated a ton of discussion among readers, so it’s no surprise that viewers of the new series had a lot to say about it as well.
Some are choosing not to watch or engage with the series because of the scene. “Bridgerton isn’t even out yet and I’m already tired of some members of Romancelandia cavalierly debating what actually counts rape,” one user wrote on December 22, before the series became available on Netflix. “Survivors are part of this community and we can see you minimizing violations of consent.”
One serious concern is not that the series shouldn’t tackle consent issues at all, but that it’s irresponsible to do so if the assault is then brushed under the rug in favor of other plot points.
Some have pointed out that the casting adds a racial complication to the encounter. In the book series, all of the characters are presumed to be white, but as with many of Shonda Rhimes’ shows, the Netflix adaptation features a diverse cast, and the Duke’s family is Black. “Y’all want people to watch a white woman rape a Black man in a romance in 2020 just in case this never happens again,” one user tweeted. “Can’t even be shocked.”
The Shondaland series on the whole has received many glowing reviews, so perhaps a second season could meaningfully explore how this scene impacts Daphne and the Duke.