Arséma Thomas, who plays a young Lady Agatha Danbury in «Queen Charlotte,» calls her role in the new series «Bridgerton» a kind of «emotional repair.»
In the Shonda Rhimes prequel spin-off, which focuses on the marriage of Queen Charlotte to King George III and her early days as England’s first black queen: Thomas says starring in the Regency-era drama gave her an opportunity to tackle the oppression of black women while also allowing them to reclaim their power.
«It’s such a complex situation but it’s also… tied so simply to misogyny,» Thomas tells TODAY.com, referring to the misogyny Black women face in which their race and gender are forms of oppression that are they cross.
“Black women and their relationship to the world around them is very different,” she explains. “One, for the fight against blackness. But it’s also…it’s the sexism of it all.»
Thomas says that even with those kinds of oppressive systems, his character finds a way to hold his own.
The actor says that Lady Danbury rebukes convention, choosing to defend her own place in society and not remarry after her husband, Lord Danbury, dies. Thomas says that by doing so, his character is not only challenging the status quo, but affirming his agency.
«In order to play this character, who basically wants to be alone voluntarily, he rejects men, rejects the ‘stability and security’ that a relationship would bring during that time, and says, ‘I’d rather be alone and take that risk.'» , ‘it’s a very liberating and hopefully uplifting thing for people,’ he says.
The American-born actress, whose parents are Nigerian and Ethiopian, said she hopes Lady Danbury’s actions signal to other women, specifically black women, “that they can do that, and they know they can stand up for themselves. ”
Thomas tells TODAY.com that just by reciting Rhimes’ prose, he found his character empowering. She says several of her lines left her thinking, «I’ve felt this before, and I just didn’t have the words.»
“Finally being able to take back power in the room, in those situations, where white people are stripping me of my worth and worth and thinking less of myself, it’s almost…it feels like an emotional repair,” Thomas says. «I can take back my power from the times when it was lost.»
For example, a young Lady Danbury stands up to Princess Augusta, trading information about Charlotte and George’s relationship in exchange for the social opportunity due to her and her husband.
He also reminds Queen Charlotte of her duty, telling her, «You are the first of your kind… Don’t you see what you must do for us?» His subtle comments reaffirm that race, class and gender inequalities remain a fundamental issue of the time.
Thomas says it’s «very important» that these moments, where black women can talk about the issues that affect them while still being authentic, are seen on screen.
“Just to be able to touch on so many different aspects of the black woman narrative. I think for a lot of us the fact that we’re all lumped together in a monolith, but we’re all so different,” says Thomas.
“It’s beautiful to be able to see that,” he adds.