'Queen Charlotte': Shonda Rhimes, Cast on 'Bridgerton' Prequel Not Shying Away From Race (Exclusive)

Shonda Rhimes, India Amarteifio, Arsema Thomas and Golda Rosheuvel discuss the 'Bridgerton' prequel's approach to Charlotte's story.

Bridgerton's Queen Charlotte is stepping into the spotlight.

Netflix launches the six-part limited series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, which delves deeper into the origin story of how Charlotte became the queen and her life beyond the crown. Told through two different time periods -- one that charts young Charlotte's (India Amarteifio) early days of her reign and marriage to King George (Corey Mylchreest), and the other set decades later with an older, hardened queen (Bridgerton's Golda Rosheuvel) lording over the kingdom.

While Bridgerton briefly dipped its toe into Queen Charlotte's real-life mixed race ancestry and depicted a Regency era that was a more racially inclusive interpretation of the time period, where people of color also held titles and positions of power, Queen Charlotte -- in many respects -- fills in the blanks on how the Ton got there in the first place. As the series establishes, uniting George and Charlotte through marriage was a political and social chess move (aka "The Great Experiment") meant to serve as a unifying force for the people.

"It was incredibly important to infuse the narrative with these themes mainly because the character that we're talking about, Queen Charlotte, [we] already created a very simple backstory for her on Bridgerton. Their love united the countries is the explanation for the society and I really wanted to explore that part because what does that actually mean?" creator/showrunner Shonda Rhimes told ET's Deidre Behar as she discussed addressing race, as well as mental health specifically with regard to King George's story.

"We never really get to see the true united society, but we do get to see the effects of them starting out and trying things," Rhimes elaborated. "I think it's an important issue to discuss. It's clearly something people are still talking about today. It's an issue we are all living with, so I thought it was great to touch on it."


Rhimes noted that while Queen Charlotte belongs in the Bridgerton universe, it is a "very different show in terms of tone," even though it holds a lot of the same DNA. "It's fun and it's funny and it's sexy and witty, but it also has serious issues that they're dealing with and you're watching women come in to their power, which is really the essence of the show."

The Queen Charlotte cast echoed Rhimes' sentiments, with Amarteifio acknowledging it's "incredibly important" to explore race as it pertains to Charlotte's place in history -- both in real life and on Bridgerton. Though the prequel is not meant to be a historical drama, but a reimagining of the time, Amarteifio agreed that chronicling the infancy stages of a more nontraditional royal court is significant. (By the time Bridgerton begins, the diversity within the Ton has largely been accepted.)

"The more that we converse and we discuss, the farther we can grow and build and mold into one," she told ET's Nischelle Turner in a separate interview alongside her castmates. "I feel very lucky to be on a project that is so unapologetically able to speak about these topics and very head-on. We discussed race and it's not swept under the carpet. You are introduced to these really tough... topics from the beginning. It just feels great to be on a project that is [on] the forefront of leading that change."


Arsema Thomas, who plays young Agatha Danbury, forecasted that the way in which Queen Charlotte digs into race is "going to be very controversial in the greatest way, like it's going to make people confront a lot of questions that they probably have about why can't a world look like this?"

"If we actually tried, and specifically focusing on the narrative of Black women, zeroing in on these women who tend to not always be in the forefront of a narrative and to give them this space to show every facet of them," said Thomas, whose character's ladyship is given to her by King George's mother, Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley), in an effort to expand Charlotte's court.

Rosheuvel credited the show for threading the needle delicately, calling its approach "excellent."

"I think we as artists... have a really amazing platform to be able to talk about these things in a way that is maybe less confrontational. That is more inviting everybody into the space to talk and discuss these topics through the medium of a period drama," the actress shared, adding later, "and in the world of [Bridgerton] author Julia Quinn's books."

"We weren't doing a documentary. We weren't doing anything like that. But we were placing this woman of history into this fantasy world. So what did that look like? What were the relationships? The backstory of family and George and all of that stuff was in my imagination," Rosheuvel said.


And no, Queen Charlotte isn't inspired by Meghan Markle, whose marriage to Prince Harry sparked debate over whether she was truly the first person of color to join the royal family. Rhimes shut down any speculation that the character (or the series) was in any way motivated by the Duchess of Sussex. "It wasn't an inspiration for me," Rhimes said. "She is a real-life, breathing human being."

Instead, Rhimes was inspired by another real-life queen.

"And so a) I don't comment on her but b) we're talking about the biggest inspiration for me was Queen Victoria really," she said of the royal ruler of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901. "I really [did] a lot of reading on Queen Victoria, sort of fascinated by the world that they were in back then and so that to me was probably one of the biggest influences."

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story drops Thursday, May 4 on Netflix.