In no world is the pernicious, prying paparazzi okay. Hounding public personalities with the deluded conviction that everything is kosher in a public sphere, is condemnable. It’s important to get that off one’s chest first. And move on. But with Netflix series Harry & Meghan that premiered on December 6, there’s no getting away from the ‘paps,’ even if all we might have wanted to encounter were the royals.
The rich irony of two people using the same form (media) that they castigated for poking, prodding and harassing them, is not lost on the viewer in general, but audience responses have largely been governed by which side of the pond they reside in. While across the Atlantic, in England, the response to H and M telling ‘their side of the story’ has been far from cheery, even bordering on hateful, Americans seem to be bleeding hearts for the Harry and Meghan flight story.
The whole appeal of the series, even for folks who are not royal-watchers, was that it would hopefully tell the true story of the royal split, and describe what exactly happened between the royals; the backstory to that notorious Archie ‘racist’ comment and the souring relationship between the brothers and their wives. The world wanted to know, really.
But what we land up with is a story that engages only in segments, and is part-love story, part-war story of a prince and his wife who went to war against the media. History lessons on racism and shaded references to the royal family’s attitude to Meghan apart, there is very little that actually shows and tells. “The drip feed of constant attack,” or the “lies you get used to with this family,” or the wildly-dramatic “I was being fed to the wolves” referenced in the episodes seldom come from a position of proof. They remain unverifiable allegations, only met with the legendary stoic silence of the British royalty, never mind how colourful the missives are.
Most stories have a villain that either looks like a villain, or behaves like one on screen at some point, or both. But in Harry & Meghan, the only perceivable villain is the British paparazzi… and Meghan’s father, whose role revelation is actually no revelation at all, having been in the public realm for years now. If this truth-telling exercise had come with more proof or solid evidence of the royals prosecuting the couple — without mere charges against press secretaries to the various royals — it might have been more compelling.
At the moment, what we seem to have is a couple shown deeply in love; they are shown as naive to the point of being inconceivable, incapable of whipping up some drama, and with a lot of axes to grind. Of course, they have built a delightful family, nearly wrecked a large one, and are clearly privileged. These are not questions that have not been asked before; did Meghan have no clue about the family that is historically counted among the pioneers of slave trade in the world? Did her husband, the dear H, have no clue either before he married her? The disbanding of the Commonwealth has been on since the early half century of the 1900s as nations yanked off the yoke of their colonisers. This series though arrogates to posit the role of the Sussexes as ushering in a renaissance in Commonwealth nations. A few tours to nations Commonwealth do not a revolution make.
Harry & Meghan
Director: Liz Garbus
Starring: Prince Harry, Meghan
Number of episodes: 6
Storyline: From their courtship to their exit from royal life, Harry and Meghan share their complex journey in their own words in this docuseries
However hard you try to ignore the fact that these two are members of a privileged ton, it becomes impossible, as every frame reminds you of the immense privilege both are now vested with. Whether it is taking transatlantic trips to see each other, flying off to Africa, or taking a private jet to a massive home in LA, it is impossible to miss the social and financial capabilities of the couple, a privilege only few have. It is particularly telling at one point, when Harry discusses the controversy over him wearing a Nazi uniform to a party. He acknowledges that he is not proud of it, but goes on to say he spoke to the Chief Rabbi in London and went over to Germany to meet with a survivor from Auschwitz, to learn from them (about what was probably the greatest world event that has ever happened). Enough said.
Racism is never acceptable, and there is a global understanding of that, that it is odious and condemnable. It is unfathomable that anyone should be put through a wringer or made to feel lesser, just because their skin is a darker shade of brown or black. But was the attack on Meghan racial?
Because they get the adulation as well as the brickbats in equal measure. There are glowing, gushing tributes from the folk on the streets, whether they have lined up to watch the bride ride to her wedding, wishing her well on the birth of her first-born, or just the fact that she has mixed parentage and how that itself made her a pioneer in the royal family. It is stated that 1,50,000 people at least had gathered to wish the couple well during their wedding, which did have a gospel band, for the first time ever at a royal wedding.
The montage we are showed in the series only has video clips of Meghan “giggling” with the late Queen, participating in public events with other royals, mostly smiling and pleasant. Even if all the ‘abuse’ happened behind closed doors, we have only their word for it, a laundry list of slights; some well-dramatised, nothing on camera, nothing in writing, and not a shred of proof. If the entire point of the series itself was to tell it all — their side of the story — then it is a bit much to expect that audiences would suspend disbelief, and take in everything without contest, as the Sussexes throw charges around. This is merely one side of a story that clearly has two.
Yes, families can be horrid, it must be conceded. Harry and Meghan are not the first people in history to encounter unhappiness outside their nuclear unit. Of course, the rest of us folks sever ties and move on. That they have a Netflix series (and a book, no less), podcasts, and a waking life dedicated to playing victim, is telling. When Harry says, at the end, “We’re exactly where we are supposed to be,” one wonders: “Really?! Then what were these 6 episodes all about?” Because, if Prince Harry truly meant it, does anything else matter at all?
P.S. The choice of music is bang for buck, and awesome. If only that’s all a good series needs.
Harry & Meghan is currently streaming on Netflix