This past Friday it was announced that model turned actress Jodie Turner-Smith would be starring in a new Channel 5 series, where she’d be playing the infamous English queen, Anne Boleyn. Best known for her incredible performance in Queen & Slim, the announcement immediately sparked debate across social media. While many praised the actress for landing the role, others chose to unleash a wave of racist rants voicing disapproval for the race-bent casting choice.
In a three-part psychological drama, Smith will portray a distraught Anne Boleyn attempting to survive a patriarchal Tudor court in the final months of her life. Jodie shared her elation over landing the role in an interview with Variety stating “I am so excited to join these exciting filmmakers in bringing the story of one of history’s most controversial queens to the screen. Delving deeper into Anne Boleyn’s immense strengths while examining her fatal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, Eve’s scripts immediately captured my imagination.” Although little else has been revealed about the series, internet trolls have wasted no time in offering their criticism.
Unfortunately, just as immediate as praise was poured out for Jodie’s casting, so did the hate. Trolls offered up a litany of excuses to damn Jodie’s casting, first by pointing out the obvious, that Jodie Turner-Smith is black while Anne Boleyn was white. Then by arguing that if the reversed casting choice had been made of a white person playing a black person then people would be outraged. From there the criticism spiraled further downward into the typical name-calling and racist rants.
However, what these trolls fail to understand is that Black people’s historical narratives are not restricted to the context of slavery or Africa. In fact, during the Renaissance period, the time in which Anne Boleyn herself lived, there were many people of African descent living in Europe. While this historical narrative has unfortunately been largely ignored or hidden in the past, recently historians have tried to remedy this by acknowledging the presence of these people as well as the power and influence they possessed. Shows such as The Spanish Princess have also taken steps to acknowledge Europe’s diverse history, with characters like Lina de Cardonnes, a black woman who was Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting in real life.
It’s past time we as a society drop these racist narratives, that seek to strip Black people of cultural heritage and allow them to be acknowledged in the stories they were a part of. Yes, Anne Boleyn was not Black. But there were no doubt people of African descent within the Tudor court. Their role in history matters just as much as their white counterparts. By race-bending Anne Boleyn it acknowledges the presence of Black people within European history. The historical narrative of Black people is more than the tragedies and traumas of oppression, it’s of innovators, thinkers, artists, and yes, even Queens. This selection of Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn marks a pivotal moment for Hollywood, it marks the beginning of a new era in which media will serve as a tool to expand past the negative media portrayals Hollywood has previously presented of Black people. Instead, pushing forth material that will honor the real history of those of African descent.