Harry & Meghan documentary: Netflix voyage without colonial reckoning is a PR

Netflix opens up ‘Meghan and Harry’ with the formal British royals decked up like their contemporaries. In sharp jet blue overcoats, the Sussexes are shown performing choreographed hugs with school kids for the grand pretence of ‘modern monarchy’ despite the in-built contradiction between modernity and monarchy when placed next to each other. As Meghan Markle hints about her moments of self-harm citing what she was going through while she and Harry were pregnant with their first child, the documentary appears to be moving on to the path of addressing some tough questions: exploitation, racism, subjugation and generational trauma associated with all of these. 

In the next frame, with an overlaying drone shot of Buckingham Palace, a former worshipping place of slavery, Harry says, “I feel as though being part of this family, it is my duty to uncover this exploitation…” There is a brief pause in Harry’s speech at ‘exploitation’. 

To a second-generation Indian person born after the dissolution of British India into present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Harry’s specific emphasis on ‘exploitation’ was triggering. It appeared as if the impossible was happening on the canvas of a globalised entertainment platform. Was Harry going to address the colonial exploits of his ancestors and its legacy in the non-European nations of ‘Empire’? Extreme poverty, low life expectancy or anything remotely similar to the real ‘commonwealth’ legacy which is anything but glorious? 

Alas! Harry’s completion of his sentence after “exploitation” laid out the charter of documentary for the rest of its episodes as a glorified Public Relations exercise that it was going to be.

“I feel as though being part of this family, it is my duty to uncover this exploitation (Harry takes a pause)…” 

“…And bribery that happens within our media,” he said.

Harry’s exploitation pause is emblematic of British moral bankruptcy when it comes to addressing every prevailing matter under the sun but Britain’s imperial past. To pop culture, the portrayal of British tabloidism and the Royal family’s perceived mistreatment of Meghan and Harry may be held as important if not significant. But to history, their current Netflix outing is a futile exercise in self-glorification. 

If Harry’s failure to address, if not apologise, for Britain’s colonial crimes was another leaf off the book of royal ignorance for the roots of their royalty, Meghan’s failure to address the same represents a moment in history when generational trauma about colonial exploits is being brushed under the carpet. 

Meghan said that during the time she played Rachel Zane in NBC’s ‘Suits’, she would visit India in hiatus. “I was writing op-eds about self-worth and about being biracial and volunteer work.” Doesn’t being biracial consist of a fundamental understanding of generational subjugation by colonialism? 

To societies where an individual’s self worth is derived as much personally as it is from family members and generations before them, Meghan Markle’s depiction of self-worth alongside an intentional ignorance of colonialism represents a revelatory moment of disappointment in today’s hyper-connected world.

Given the outsized role Britain played in disseminating racism around the world with its colonialism and slavery exploits, even a six-episodes long exercise for ‘setting the record straight’ – without any apologetic reckoning for Britain’s colonial past – is a royal PR effort dead at arrival.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

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