Historically Inaccurate: A Case for Diversity in Period Pieces


Poster for Hamilton

I’m not saying the founding fathers had rap battles in court with accompanying choruses, but a slight deviation from the source material isn’t always a bad thing. If the characters in Little Women (2019) were completely historically accurate we wouldn’t have the outrageous American Girl Doll-adjacent costuming to gawk at.

Last week in my Media and Society class, my professor proposed a great question: who gets represented?

This was coming off of my third binge of the Netflix series “Anne With an E.” Naturally, I decided to ponder the answer to this question through the lens of period pieces.

“Anne With an E” is based on the children’s book series, “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The series was updated from the source content to include people of color and queer representation into the Victorian-set world.

Period pieces have a history of only fitting a very narrow perspective of the world at the time in which it takes place. But a new evolution has begun. There is more inclusion than ever before. But, it is at the cost of accuracy.

Last year, in a since deleted post, one Reddit user wrote, “why forecefully (sic) inject minorities in historically white roles simply to be ‘inclusive?’ It just seems silly and over the top to me, and is distracting.”

The user directly references “Hamilton,” a musical by Lin Manuel Miranda wherein the story of The American Revolution is depicted from the perspective of Alexander Hamilton. The cast is made up of a racially diverse group of performers.

In a 2013 interview with Radical Media, Miranda revealed that the show does not cast based on race, but by their ability to rap well. “Whether they’re white or not. It’s a thorny issue, but I think that race and gender should be considered the same way that height and age are — they’re a factor,” he said.

Other shows such as Hulu’s “The Great” take a similar approach. The series follows the rise of Catherine The Great, as well as the overthrowing of her dense husband, Petter III. In the opening credits, a reminder flashes that events portrayed on the show are only mostly true. This includes made-up Russian elites portrayed by non-Russian, non-white actors.

The main objections to media like this is correctness. However, I’d like to suggest a counter to this argument. This media does not rewrite history. Suspended belief is a part of the enjoyment of anything one consumes.
The intestines falling out of bodies in horror movies are just rubber. A thrilling novel was most likely pecked out by one very sleep deprived writer with their cat swatting at the keyboard the entire time.

If the story is not reliant on the character’s racial or ethnic identity, I see no harm in remixing the source content for the sake of optimal entertainment.