Not that anyone needs me to defend the idea, but…
Today I watched a trailer for the upcoming mini-series starring Jodie Turner-Smith, and I have to admit, I was impressed. By the acting, the cinematography, the music, but most of all by the stated intent of this new entry into the vast collection of works about my beloved doomed queen.
“Dishonest or devoted? Traitor or trailblazer? Sinner or saint? You may know the history…But you don’t know her story.”
The argument has been made that everyone knows what Anne Boleyn looked like, so why bother making her Black? What point are they trying to make? I can’t speak for the original intent of the producers, but in watching the trailer, my attention was drawn to Anne in each and every frame; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. This has not been true in previous versions of the story where she was portrayed by a white actress, no matter how beautiful. Which brings up the crucial thing to understand about Anne: she was not defined by her beauty, but by her uniqueness. With her French upbringing and flair, her intelligence and wit, her sparkle, her passion and ambition, her unconquerable spirit, she captured the heart of one of England’s greatest kings in a way no one could have imagined or foreseen–and she was hated for it as much as she was admired. What must it have been like to be in her presence? What was it about her that drove Henry the VIII to such extremes of uncontrollable love and unrestrainable hatred that he would fight against all of Christendom for a decade to make her his queen, only to throw her to the headsman barely three years after attaining that goal? I have yet to see an actress who I feel captured the indefinable quality she must have possessed, that fierceness of spirit coupled with irresistible allure and a whiff of sacred mystery.
In light of this, what difference does it actually make to have a white-skinned actress playing her? Again, we all have a pretty good idea what she LOOKED like, and no one will be fooled, watching this, into thinking she was a Black woman. What we don’t know, what we can’t grasp from either the flat historical portraits or the conventional modern portrayals, is what she WAS like–and if the trailer is any indication, Turner-Smith’s Anne has some powerful insights to impart. Perhaps even a couple of shattering revelations.
The times have changed since Anne walked the earth, but what girls and women (trans women and girls included) can learn from her even now is that defining ourselves by our relationship to a man can be extremely dangerous, regardless of any short-term rewards. (Again, Anne was Queen of England for less than three years.) But at the same time, we can also learn that sometimes the men around us will be our only means of opening doors, introducing new ideas, gaining a foothold into the machinery of power. Almost 500 years after Anne’s reign came to its tragic end, it is still very much a man’s world. Always, in any fight, women must weigh the potential dangers to ourselves and our loved ones against what stands to be gained. Always, we must cling to our faith, our convictions, and our ideals in spite of any dangers if we are really determined to persevere–as Anne was.
“Fear can be fuel. Let your fear drive you to be bigger, louder,” Turner-Smith’s Anne says. “The sky itself will not limit you.”
In Anne’s case, she lost her throne (and her life) due to her inability to give Henry a “great son for England,” the male child a fortune teller had supposedly predicted she would bear. Instead, she gave him Elizabeth I, the female child who went on to become arguably one of the greatest rulers in all of history, a “great SUN for England.” I wish Henry, misogynistic asshole that he was, (sorry, Anne–for she really did love him,) could have lived to appreciate the irony–not to mention witness the consequences of his utter wrongheadedness. Turns out, his judicial murder of Elizabeth’s mother led his daughter to swear off men, and the resulting lack of heirs produced the untimely end of the Tudor dynasty. Ah, the hindsight allowed us by history.
(I have NO idea when this will be available to watch here in the US, but I can’t wait!)