January 30, 2023

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The role of the media should be discussed after the Harry and Meghan documentary

The role of the media should be discussed after the Harry and Meghan documentary

  • Zoe Williams

    Journalist, author and columnist for The Guardian newspaper

The documentary series “Harry & Meghan” premieres on Netflix December 8th.

Watch Harry and Meghan’s documentary and tell me they weren’t the victims of media bigotry. Could the BBC and quality newspapers do something differently?

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The article was first published in the British newspaper Watchman.

Why did Harry and Meghan make the documentary on Netflix? It’s been nearly three years since what was called a “megset”: the couple resigned their royal duties, moved partly to the United States, and became financially independent.

Reputation battle for life and death

An Oprah Winfrey interview, in which they address the blatant public and private racism that made their situation unacceptable, aired in 2021. They’re out. They have left the company.

Wouldn’t it be great to move on? This is a question asked by an interviewer not involved in “Harry and Meghan”. “Our story was written about by people I don’t know,” Megan says. “Wouldn’t it make sense to hear our story from us?” Harry is even more upset, and to the average viewer he laments: “We were never allowed to tell our story.”

But if you watched the documentary, you’ll know there’s a life-and-death battle over reputation going on: William vs. Harry; Kate vs. Megan. The royal family vs the untouchables. The tabloids against the Sussex couple.

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“woko uno”

If they go their separate ways, they leave an image of themselves, and Megan in particular, that remains unchallenged. This image was nicely summed up by The Sun on the morning of the documentary’s broadcast (Meghan’s name, by the way, was called Woko Ono — the headlines should have gotten it…). On Twitter, Telegraph columnist Alison Pearson wrote: “The Queen throws a Christmas party for terminally ill children and their parents. They decorate the tree. Meanwhile, the Sussex couple receives an award for ‘Moral Courage’ in New York. The absurdity of it all bordering on disgust.”

Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail, also on Twitter: “Poor Meghan was forced to wear all this jewelry the Royal Family gave her… I honestly don’t know how she does it.”

Megan accused and convicted in the media. Their rule is that she is a gold-digger who managed to rob Harry, she is self-absorbed where royals are obedient, and she is greedy, attention-seeking, spoiled, and unrestrained.

It is rooted in racism and misogyny

Lucy Fraser, a friend of the couple, says in the documentary: “The British media are known for doing everything they can to get a story… They’ll do anything to get an exclusive story and make money.”

It is often said that tabloids are greedy for money. But it’s not about money in the first place, it’s about replicating and spreading values. The hard truth that comes out in this story is that it is rooted in racism and misogyny.

All of these negative personality traits that Megan has become – this superior, narcissistic, demanding personality – were just expressing that they didn’t think were right for her. The racial innuendo in this makes you cool when you get it in plain language – “Harry’s girl comes (almost) straight from Compton (notorious for poverty and crime, editor’s note)”; “One of them became a gangster” (ER is short for Elisabeth Regina, meaning Queen Elizabeth, editor’s note).

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Stories that weren’t explicitly about her race–in ditches from an outcast half-sister, from people in the castle–were used as fig leaves for the letter that didn’t fit her.

Maybe a little swollen, but…

The first thing that was necessary in the documentary was that the couple had to show that they are very special, but still very normal people who love each other and love their children. A passionate feminist from an early age, Meghan completely lost Harry after the loss of his mother, Diana. Perhaps some of it is too self-centered and inflated, but who would be able to avoid such things when we are asked to substantiate the claim “I’m a nice person”.

The point is, the war was waged against them from the start. Harry’s language freezes as he recalls the original crime the tabloids committed against him: they chased his mother to death. “I was terrified that the media would turn M away. The same media that turned me off. Every relationship I had was all over the papers in a matter of weeks or months.”

So there was indeed a dark side to what documentarian Avua Hirsch elegantly describes as “the idea that you can be born into a contractual relationship with the British media”. With the announcement of their engagement, however, this agenda has become white supremacy.

Racist undertones in existing media

This probably sounds like an exaggeration, but I honestly don’t know what you would call it, I am very much against a prince marrying a half black woman. Doria, Megan’s mother, recalls: “I told her this was about race. You might not want to hear it, but that’s when we put it on the front line.” As Harry said in a statement very early in the relationship, it was the racist undertones in established media that gave sustenance and respect to open racism in social media.

How many black women should be sacrificed at this altar while we debate whether or not media behavior is part of the problem?

Before I watched the documentary, I longed for a time when you didn’t have to take sides, when you could be allowed to think the whole family was a bit silly, a waste of money and titles. But now I think that’s a conversation we have to have: Is it okay to have this very dominant industry that spends its time perpetuating blatant, undeniable bigotry? Is there a response that progressive media can have, other than gentle impartiality? Could the BBC or high-quality newspapers be more powerful? How many black women should be sacrificed at this altar while we debate whether or not media behavior is part of the problem?

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Translated from the English by George Hillum