Following last week’s teaser trailer, Harry & Meghan, the Netflix docuseries about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, dropped a full trailer this morning. So…they bookended the Prince and Princess of Wales’s anticlimactic trip to America with H&M. Someone in the Netflix marketing department is a straight up TROLL. And we live for the drama, of course, so thank you to that person for the exquisite timing of all things. Although, it does feel like watching a family melt down in real time, and that is sad, because while I am cackling, I am also wondering if these are bridges that can ever be rebuilt.
Because it looks like H&M is GOING there. In this new trailer, we hear Harry talking about stories not just “leaked” but “planted” in the press. I’m not sure most people bother to note the nuance, usually, but a leak can come from anywhere, a plant suggests strategy, purpose…intent. And they’re making it clear they believe the intent was, always, to damage Meghan. The trailer editing further suggests two things: 1) that the royal institution is inherently misogynistic, targeting women who marry in, and 2) that Meghan was doomed once she was so instantly popular.
The second is, I think, most people’s assumption of what happened and why. It’s not even really a conspiracy theory at this point, it’s just what everyone thinks went down. Meghan married in, her charisma and popularity were a threat to…someone. Something. Maybe H&M will tell us more. Because what we’re left to assume is that people within The Firm didn’t like being upstaged by a “minor” royal, a married-in who was never going to get close to the throne. The king, the queen, their direct heirs, those are supposed to be the stars, not the whatever-th in line’s wife.
But I am much more interested in point #1. “The pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution,” Harry says. And YES, let’s talk about THAT. Let’s talk about how the monarchy, despite the reign of a queen for seventy years, is built on misogyny. Royal women have always been bargaining chips, breeding stock, assets, and liabilities, and one of the biggest challenges for monarchy in the modern age is evolving that institutional attitude toward the role of women. Most royal families have updated their country’s laws to allow female succession if no male heir is present, but that’s a secondary consideration! In most cases, a woman can’t inherit just because she’s the oldest, if she has a younger brother, he gets it all.
When we talk about how certain women have burned out in the British royal institution—Margaret, Diana, Meghan—we talk about their charm, how their presence threatened the “hierarchy”, maybe even how they “distract” from the ones who should be the “rockstars”. We don’t talk about how the entire royal system is built to put women in a box and leave them there, and the only women who survive are the ones who subsume their personalities into silence and fashion moments.
But this ties into why I’m not super bothered by the “reveal” that there is footage in the trailer from a Harry Potter premiere years before Harry and Meghan met. There’s also a shot of Kate walking down a street, obscuring her face in the trailer, which of course some people are assigning bad faith, assuming the docuseries, and thus, Harry and Meghan themselves, are trying to pass this moment off as Meghan, not Kate. Like, oh they’re manipulating images to suit their narrative. But what Harry says about “women marrying in” makes it clear he’s making a larger point than just what happened to Meghan. Kate was hounded! Remember the 2000s? The engagement period in the early 2010s? Kate was followed everywhere! Just like Diana before her! The difference is that, ultimately, Kate was able to swallow it all down and do the thing the survivors do—subsume her personality into The Firm. Whether or not she, or anyone, should HAVE to do that is the institutional question.
This series is titled Harry & Meghan, so I expect it to be a lot about them, and Meghan’s specific experiences, including how race played into her othering and ostracization from The Firm (which gets harder to deny as a factor with each new revelation). But it’s also clear they’re making a larger point, that while Meghan being Black exacerbated things, there is already a problem facing women who marry into the royal family, especially if they are too charismatic, too appealing, too popular. They’re going after the whole enchilada, and that means giving examples beyond just them, showing how the system works at large, not just in their case. That can include talking about how the British press approaches all kinds of celebrity and how, over the years, the line between royalty and celebrity has thinned, and how that might affect press coverage of royals.
The whole situation is so f-cked, there are people who simply won’t be interested in any kind of conversation about institutional problems facing the royal family. Everything is going to be seen as a deliberate effort by Harry and Meghan to “bring down the monarchy” or whatever, as if the monarchy hasn’t survived centuries of rebellion, revolution, and troublesome women. I am at least interested to see if Harry and Meghan can make a compelling case, how all the various threads tie together, and what their big takeaway is from what they’ve been through over the last several years (and for Harry, literally his whole life). I do think they’re going to have to address the Harry Potter thing, either it turns out the series uses that footage to make a specific point, or someone is going to have to answer for the editing. But I am at least willing to hear them out, because as a spectator with no skin in the game, it seems pretty obvious there’s a problem.