Meghan Markle, the "Blackening of Windsor" and Why That Matters on Live TV (Guest Column)

Charley Gallay (Locke), WPA/Pool (Harry and Meghan), all Getty Images
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; Inset: Attica Locke

An 'Empire' writer contends that by celebrating her nuptials with reverent nods to African-American beauty, faith and culture, Markle "raised the roof on St. George's Chapel, obliterating hundreds of years of tradition."

I am a black woman raising a biracial girl in Southern California. I work in the entertainment industry. Immaculate Heart is on our list of prospective high schools. I went to Northwestern. In Meghan Markle’s life story, I see many glimpses of my own. And even I was like, "Yeah, there’s no way I’m getting up at 4:30 in the morning to watch that wedding." I mean, I had to do that for Diana and Charles. We all did. There was no such thing as a DVR when I watched that wedding from my grandmother’s living room in Lufkin, Texas. I was 7 years old and waking up to watch what was essentially a live Disney movie took very little coaxing. I basically thought the Harry and Meghan nuptials would be much of the same royal schtick, just, you know, caramel-dipped. So I taped it, planning to watch it at a sensible hour.

Still, I could feel the excitement of the live event — a crackling energy in the air and online, a feeling of national pride (that one of us was marrying into British royalty) and global connection that is all too rare in our current streaming and on-demand lifestyle; it’s quite easy to forget the power of the spectacle of live TV, how it can bring millions of people together. I tried to keep the experience authentic — even on tape delay. I ignored social media all morning, had seen not so much as a glimpse of the dress when I laid out artisanal donuts and waited for folks to arrive for my very small viewing party — which, because I’m a mom, consisted of 11- and 13-year-old girls, all biracial, and their mothers.

We oohed and aahed over gravity-defying hats, the colorful plumes of British birds and old biddies. It initially felt like a replay of my childhood viewing of Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding — only now with my sour, grown-up understanding of history and the colonialism that made all that pomp and circumstance possible. Still, I was game to bite through my own political distaste to see a black girl marry into the royal family. As I had told my very leftist, very white husband when he tried some "down with the monarchy"/"we’re not watching that wedding" BS: "What you’re not going to do is have your whole existence propped up by white imperialism and then try to change the channel when we get a black face up in Windsor. We are watching this wedding. Period."

As the coverage began, it all seemed as British and foreign to me as that clotted mess they put on scones. And as white, too, frankly. But then slowly, as the guests began to arrive, our multiracial viewing party started to get the sense that this wasn’t going to be like any other royal wedding in history: The blackening of Windsor was upon us. First, I spotted Idris Elba and screamed. Then I saw Serena Williams. Oprah. By the time I saw Afro-Latina goddess Gina Torres arrive at Windsor Castle, I almost fainted.

And then Meghan’s mama showed up. Doria Ragland. Dreads beneath a tasteful hat, nose ring, walking into St. George’s Chapel with the regal beauty of every auntie and sister-cousin in my family — and I was done, y’all. In love. In awe. And suddenly at home — in England, in Windsor, in the world. I had never seen anything like this on my TV. At one point, my husband looked at me and wondered aloud if the bride and groom would jump the broom. That’s how black it was getting in that church. For a second, I actually thought there might be a broom ribboned in Kente cloth secreted away at Doria’s feet.

OK, let’s tick off the obvious: Dress, gorgeous. Bride, stunning. The tiara, my jaw ain’t off the floor yet. Harry, hot ginge as always. Their furtive glances, so romantic.

But then let’s get into off-the-wall fabulous: Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon. By the time he was mentioning slaves to the O.G. colonialists, I was damn near prostrate. Then he quoted Dr. King. He spoke about love as a political act — basically subtweeting every day of Donald Trump’s presidency and the violent nationalism it has spawned around the world. And all the while Meghan sat there, ankles crossed (as per her royal training), but unbowed in her quiet power, knowing she had just raised the roof on St. George’s Chapel, obliterating hundreds of years of tradition. With stoic grace, she was telling the world (and her new in-laws), "This ain’t a tan, y’all. I’m black." Then there was the oh-so-colorful Kingdom Choir singing “Stand by Me,” a song that, according to Time magazine, "rose to popularity during the civil rights movement … [and] was used as a rallying cry for solidarity amongst people of color."

By the time they brought out the black cellist, my soul was so lifted by a feeling of acceptance of my color and my culture that I said to my sister, "This is the most joy I’ve felt in 2018." A year when I wake up most days, read the news and think, with fear and sadness, "Jesus Christ, this country can’t stand black people."

In the history of television, there have been many instances when the spectacle of a live televised event offered a balm to a world in the throes of deep conflict and turmoil, when the medium itself has acted as a healer. I am thinking of President Kennedy’s funeral. I am thinking of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am thinking of the images of 9/11 first responders racing into burning buildings, lifting strangers out of rubble.

For black folks, images of ourselves in these kinds of uplifting scenarios have been few and far between. Our relationship with TV spectacle is infinitely more complicated. We are as likely to see one of us in a perp walk on national TV as we are to see one of us give away a gazillion cars to an entire studio audience. We are as likely to see ourselves murdered by police as we are to see ourselves being inaugurated to the highest office in the land. So when a display of the beauty of black people and black culture — our faith, our fortitude, our humor (I found watching descendants of the Brits’ colonial past on parade inside a castle whose wealth and status their black labor made possible to be a sly joke) — finds its way onto my television screen, it is, for me, a moment of healing.

So to my own personal list of moments in live television that made me feel seen and understood and respected and also hopeful about my place in society — the March on Washington; Michael Jackson moonwalking onstage during the Motown 25th anniversary special; Halle Berry winning the Oscar; Denzel Washington winning the Oscar; Moonlight winning the Oscar; Kanye telling George Bush about himself; the night Obama won; his first Inauguration; his second — I now add the wedding of Meghan and Harry, who walked out of St. George’s Chapel as Duke and Duchess of Sussex to the ululating of African chants in the crowd. It doesn’t get any blacker than that.

Locke is a former writer for Fox’s Empire and the author of the novel Bluebird, Bluebird.

A version of this story appears in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.