Where Are All the People of Color In Downton Abbey?

Downtown Abbey
***Spoiler Alert *** My wife is a serious Downton Abbey fan, so as a result I have been following the show too. Downton packs a lot into forty-five minutes. I enjoy the period touches and the constant habit the English have of not being physically capable of communicating openly about well, everything. What is fascinating is how the show is placed in the context of history when change (World War I, economic concerns, women’s suffrage, the roaring twenties) is being forced on the Abbey whether the people there are ready for it or not. I have my favorites—Matthew Crawley and his Mum, and Maggie Smith’s comic timing as the Dowager. They always provide a good laugh. I also find Lord Grantham to be an interesting character. His impeccable posture and royal air hide an unsure man with a great many weaknesses just beneath the surface.

Toward the end of the first season I began to notice that something was missing. Where were the people of African, West Indian, and Indian descent? Aside from the brief appearance and demise of the Turkish diplomat Mr. Pamuk, I never saw any people of color. When the youngest daughter, Sybil, elopes with Tom, the chauffeur, I liked the chasm it created, how issues of class came to the forefront. Tom was definitely the outsider, and was treated with contempt by the royals and the servants alike. Tom’s romance and eventual marriage to Sybil upset the delicate balance between the Abbey’s masters and its staff.

For a television series that goes to great lengths to get all the nuances of the period right, historical accuracy should force the writers to inject some degree of race into the show. There are some rumblings from the show’s writers and other places online that there are plans to make the show more diverse. When they do, it should create opportunities for some cracking good storytelling.

4 Comments

  1. Mike Ellis
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Reality check – I grew up in a town about 30 miles south of London after WWII and I do not remember seeing any persons of color in those years!

  2. Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    What about in London proper? The characters do make frequent trips into London and I haven’t noticed any POCs in any of these scenes either.

  3. MD Haddick
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    You should check in with some history books about the time period – it would have been extremely RARE to find any black people working at that kind of estate. Very occasionally, there might be people from India (brown?) who accompanied East India Company officers back home and were employed as servants of some kind (as shown in the new Upstairs/Downstairs series).
    We might like to project our political correctness back in time, but it simply doesn’t fit the historical reality on country estates.
    There was a somewhat different picture in urban areas where England’s abolitionist movement (late 18th-early 19th centuries) had led to a small population of free blacks in London & other cities.
    (Let me know if you’d like some book titles to refer to.)

  4. Posted February 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    As I noted in my comment above the cities would have a more diverse population and I was glad to see this reflected in episode six, season three.


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