Charithra Chandran on how "Bridgerton" helped her internalized colorism: "I'm trying to unlearn it"

"All my life I grew up with people telling me that I would be pretty if I was lighter-skinned"

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published April 8, 2022 5:31PM (EDT)

Shelley Conn as Mary Sharma and Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma in "Bridgerton." (Liam Daniel/Netflix)
Shelley Conn as Mary Sharma and Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma in "Bridgerton." (Liam Daniel/Netflix)

In its first season, "Bridgerton" was criticized for the majority of its characters of color being lighter-skinned actors, showing the implicit bias of colorism in its casting. The majority of its leads, meanwhile, were still white actors.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, actor Charithra Chandran, one of the new stars of the second season of "Bridgerton," was open about the ways in which colorism has impacted her life, starting at a very young age. 

Chandran was born in Scotland to Indian-immigrant parents and was raised in England. She is Tamil, as is actor Simone Ashley, who plays her older sister on the Netflix show. As Teen Vogue writes, "Chandran and Ashley playing leading roles isn't just a win for South Asian representation; it is specifically a win for darker-skinned South Asian women as well."

This season – widely praised as better than the first, with less sex and more smoldering – follows the story of Chandran and Ashley as the Sharma sisters, who enter the "ton" from India to find Chandran's character, younger sister Edwina, a respectable marriage. The queen plucks out Edwina as the diamond of the season, the highest honor she can bestow upon all the eligible young women. 

Related: Secrets of a gossip writer: The unchecked power of Lady Whistledown on "Bridgerton"

But in her real life, Chandran struggled to be accepted. Colorism, which is prejudice against someone based on their darker skin tone, was ever-present in her life, even from her own community and household. Chandran told Allure: "All my life I grew up with people telling me that I would be pretty if I was lighter-skinned. I remember [someone] said to my grandma, who is quite light-skinned, 'Your granddaughter's cute. Shame she didn't take after you.' She meant my skin color." (We've also seen this preference played out on the streamer's popular series "Indian Matchmaker," in which "fair" is a quality that is often listed in a desired mate.)

Chandran admitted she had tried to wash the color off her hands when she was a child. Her grandparents allowed her play outside only early in the morning or in the evening, to try to avoid the sun darkening her skin. "When the sun is shining and I tan, my instinct is like, 'Oh f**k, I tanned.' I'm trying to unlearn it," she told Teen Vogue. "It's going to be a lifelong struggle."

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One of the writers of "Bridgerton" this season is Indian, Geetika Lizardi, and much of the second season praise is for the Sharma sisters, both diamonds in the storyline.

But Chandran still struggles with the legacy of prejudice and incorrect assumptions about the color of her skin, that lighter equals more desirable: "For most of my life I've been taught that that's what is beautiful," she told Teen Vogue. "It's really, really traumatizing. I just desperately don't want that for my cousins. I just pray, pray, pray that it's not like that for them."

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By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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