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Julian Fellowes says ‘not good’ for the young black community to see themselves portrayed as victims

The Gilded Age creator Julian Fellowes says it’s ‘not good’ for the young black community to see themselves portrayed as victims onscreen as he discusses Denée Benton’s role as writer Peggy Scott in new drama


Julian Fellowes has said it is ‘not good’ for the young black community to see themselves being portrayed as victims onscreen – as he discussed striving for diversity in his new drama, The Gilded Age.

The Downton Abbey creator, 72, spoke to Radio Times magazine ahead of the launch of his new TV show, set in New York.

The US series, which begins on Sky Atlantic and Now on January 25, is named after the period of rapid US economic growth between 1870 and 1900 – and showcases the wealth of New York’s elite between the rival van Rhijn and Russell families. 

The Gilded Age uses historical accuracy to explore the lives of black women during the 1880s – with Fellowes saying: ‘I suppose I do feel, not with a woke hat on but with a slight hat on of some sort, that it’s not good for the younger black community to constantly watch black people being portrayed as victims.’

Peer: Julian Fellowes has said it is ‘not good’ for the young black community to see themselves being portrayed as victims on TV- as he discussed striving for diversity in his new drama, The Gilded Age

The Conservative peer’s new drama features rising African-American star Denée Benton playing a young ambitious writer named Peggy Scott who returns home after finishing her education.

Fellowes said: ‘When I was reading around that period, I came across Carla L Peterson’s book Black Gotham, which is about the black middle-class in New York in the late 19th century. I wasn’t really even aware that there was a black middle-class in New York [at that time].’   

‘There were women at that time who wrote novels on both sides of the Atlantic, but it wasn’t easy. It was tough enough to get published as a woman apart from anything else.

‘I suppose I do feel, not with a woke hat on but with a slight hat on of some sort, that it’s not good for the younger black community to constantly watch black people being portrayed as victims.

Diversity: The Conservative peer's new drama features rising African-American actress Denée Benton (right) as a young ambitious writer named Peggy Scott

Diversity: The Conservative peer’s new drama features rising African-American actress Denée Benton (right) as a young ambitious writer named Peggy Scott

Heroine: Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), pictured, may remind Downton fans of Lady Rose (Lily James)

Heroine: Louisa Jacobson stars Marian Brook  in the new series (pictured)

‘I think it’s why sports people and people in the entertainment world are so important because it’s about positive achievement. I think it was fun for Denée to play a dynamic part in a costume drama. Well, she found it interesting enough to take the part, which is what matters to me.’

The full interview with Julian can be found in the latest issue of Radio Times, out now

The full interview with Julian can be found in the latest issue of Radio Times, out now

Fellowes has previously depicted the lives of white aristocrats in his widely acclaimed film Gosford Park and award-winning series Downton Abbey. 

He said he deliberately cast many of the African-American characters as well-off and educated. 

He said: ‘There was a substantial black, prosperous middle class. 

‘I found it interesting that you could have a black narrative that was truthful, but not about victimhood.’     

While it is set in a US city in the 1880s rather than the Yorkshire of Downton decades later, The Gilded Age features characters of a type that made the British production a ratings and financial juggernaut.  

Acid-tongued: Downton's Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) may have met her match in waspish widow Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski), pictured

Acid-tongued: Downton’s Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith), left, may have met her match in waspish widow Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski), right

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