The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Post Elizabeth: Harry and Meghan’s Netflix yawner

This image released by Netflix shows Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in a scene from the documentary series "Harry & Meghan," directed by Liz Garbus. (Netflix via Associated Press) (AP)

You’re reading Post Elizabeth, our newsletter following the British monarchy’s transition. Click here to get it in your inbox.

Two storylines stand out in “Harry & Meghan,” the new Netflix documentary series that began streaming Thursday about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who made headlines by ditching their royal roles in 2020.

One turns on the program’s content, which so far mostly covers familiar ground, telling the couple’s love story while faulting racism and the tabloid press for vilifying Meghan.

Then there’s the media spectacle surrounding the show, including numerous live blogs as journalists watched the episodes Thursday.

Our take so far? We’re not blown away by the documentary — it is missing critical voices and hard questions — but we think there could still be explosive content to come.

The six-episode docuseries, produced by the Sussexes themselves, arrives in two parts, with the second half dropping Dec. 15. Opening credits note that all interviews were completed by August 2022 — so, before the death of Queen Elizabeth IIand that “Members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content within this series.”

Already, Buckingham Palace has denied that royal relatives were approached for input. But if that’s the palace’s chief complaint today, royals and their staff are surely relieved about it in the main.

Netflix predictably billed the program as a “global event,” and palace officials were reportedly wearied by some of the material in the trailers alone. Given the couple’s earlier comments to Oprah that a royal relative had questioned them about their (unborn) child’s skin color, and that Meghan struggled with suicidal thoughts, speculation mushroomed about possible revelations, particularly regarding racism in and around the royal family. Other factors appeared to raise the stakes of the Netflix release: a racism controversy at Buckingham Palace last week (more on that below), and Harry and Meghan receiving an award from the Robert F. Kennedy foundation Tuesday in New York for their work on racial justice and mental health.

But aside from new photos and video footage, little in “Harry & Meghan” felt revelatory. Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, appears in her first on-camera interview. The couple shared details of their initial connection on Instagram and early dates. Harry called wearing a Nazi costume in 2005 one of his biggest regrets. Meghan says that she turned to the Toronto police to report stalking by photographers after their relationship became public but that she was told “there’s really nothing we can do, because of who you’re dating.”

Netflix's documentary series, which premiered Dec. 8, delves into the couple's courtship, marriage and exit as senior members of the royal family. (Video: The Washington Post)

The early episodes lay out the couple’s love story and discuss Meghan’s experiences as a mixed-race woman and the shift in public reaction to her. (The program credits Ragland, who is Black, for identifying race as the issue.) The couple connect the timing of their relationship, which began in 2016, to the Brexit referendum that year and immigration acting as a proxy for race in the U.K. tabloid culture. James Holt, a former palace spokesman who works for the couple’s Archewell Foundation, says: “It was a perfect storm that gave credence to jingoism and nationalism and gave people with really horrible views of the world a little bit more strength and confidence to say what they wanted to say.”

David Olusoga, a Black British author, says on camera: “The British tabloid press exists both as a series of publications but also as a mentality. And it’s toxic. We have to recognize that this is a White industry. ... And anyone who steps into the public eye, particularly someone who’s female and someone who is Black, is fair game in their minds.”

A key narrative of the series was already well established: Harry was traumatized by the media hounding of his mother, Princess Diana, and by paparazzi trailing him throughout his life. “There’s a difference,” the prince says, “between having to accept, ‘Okay, we have this position in this family and therefore there’s going to be a level of interest,’ and being swarmed by paparazzi chasing you in cars through red lights. And then chasing you down the road on foot, which is what happened probably about 30 or 40 times when I was younger.”

If much of this was familiar — and if revisiting the tabloid scandals involving Meghan’s father and his adult children are exhausting — the doc offered a handful of fresher insights. Harry says that he is “really proud” that his children are mixed race and that he is working on his unconscious bias and raising awareness around him. Also forceful is a member of the British royal family speaking publicly of “exploitation and bribery” within the media. “It all comes down to control," Harry says, speaking of the royal press corps. “It’s like, ‘This family is ours to exploit. Their trauma is our story and our narrative to control.’ ”

Harry and Meghan are determined to control their story. The question is: Do they have anything else to say?

Don’t miss

Coverage from around The Post

In their Netflix documentary, write Post London correspondents Karla Adam and William Booth, Harry and Meghan seek to control their story. The couple’s attempt to manage the narrative of the rift with the House of Windsor — and to profit from the same — is sparking strong emotions in Britain. In one Netflix episode, Meghan looks at the camera and asks: “Doesn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?” “Some royal watchers here might say no, not really,” Adam and Booth report.

Susan Hussey was the queen’s right-hand woman for decades — yet her downfall was swift. Hussey, who is godmother to Prince William, resigned from her mostly ceremonial palace role after a Black guest, Ngozi Fulani, reported that Hussey had asked several times at a recent Buckingham Palace event: Where are you really from?

That is “the kind of conversation pretty much every British person of color has endured at some point,” writes Helier Cheung, a Post breaking-news editor in London.

The centerpiece of the British crown jewels is at an undisclosed location, writes The Post’s William Booth. St. Edward’s Crown has been removed from the Tower of London and is being resized for King Charles ahead of his coronation May 6.

Regram

Getty Images royal photographer Chris Jackson shared scenes from the Earthshot Prize awards ceremony the Prince and Princess of Wales attended in Boston last week.

Follow @washingtonpost and @postopinions on Instagram for more news coverage.

Do you have questions about Britain’s royals? Submit them here.

Loading...