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How Mr. Malcolm’s List Stars Embraced The Diversity Of The Regency Romance In Authentic Ways

Just following Bridgerton introducing South Asian representation to the regency romance with Season 2’s Sharma sisters, Freida Pinto leads Mr. Malcolm’s List, another new book-to-movie adaptation showcasing diversity in a genre that has long been greatly fronted by white characters. The Indian-born actress, alongside her co-star, British Nigerian actor, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, shared how they embraced bringing diversity to the period romance in an authentic way. 

When CinemaBlend spoke to Freida Pinto about her role in Mr. Malcolm’s List, the actress spoke to pushing back against making Selena Dalton a “gimmicky” character just for the sake of representation. In her words: 

I didn't want to wear culture on your sleeve in a way that just is jarring and almost in a way will make me feel like I was justifying my presence in the film because that's not what I was trying to do at all. But I think the subtlety, which Pam [Downe], the costume designer with textiles, which I think was a massive exchange – or steal, which however you wanna see it – but the West took from India. We played with the paisley print on one of my costumes. And, I think that was like a nod to my culture. Truly another small little nod to my culture that I kind of introduced into the film was really inspired by Ṣọpẹ́ because Ṣọpẹ́ had a very specific idea on how he wanted to bring in his culture in a very beautiful, poetic way. And I thought if I had to be inspired by that, I would like to call my father Papa in the movie. It had something to do with [Ṣọpẹ́’s] dad and then had something to do with me using that, to kind of call my father by the Indian term that South Asians used for their fathers.

Pinto chose to express her and Selena’s Indian background in a couple ways, adding another great South Asian character to recent media. For one, she worked with Mr. Malcolm’s List costume designer to implement certain elements of the wardrobe that would directly nod to her culture. Additionally, she decided to call her father in the movie “Papa,” which is specifically how children commonly call fathers India. She was  heavily inspired by Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, who plays the titular Mr. Malcolm. Dìrísù shared this about how he embraced diversity in the film in a personal way:

I suppose to expand on what Frida was alluding to, there is a moment in the film where Jeremy Malcolm speaks Yoruba, which is the language of my family and my people back in Southwest Nigeria. And I think what that was for me was I just wanted to make sure that the viewers, our audience and everyone that's enjoying the story knew that this presentation of Jeremy Malcolm wasn't a written as white character that was just being played by a Black person for the purposes box ticking or “diversity” or forcing inclusion. But that this character, this person was a full and realized Black person living at that time. And I thought that it was a subtle way of introducing culture into it. And it only takes up like three lines worth of script, but it gave a fullness to the story of that character and it allowed us to have a deeper understanding of who he was and where he came from rather than it just being on the surface.

While these are subtle adds to Mr. Malcolm’s List, it allowed both leads to feel their characters belonged in the regency setting in an organic rather than simply being color-blind casting choices. When CinemaBlend spoke to the movie’s director Emma Holly Jones about the topic of bringing diversity in this particular genre, she said this: 

There's been Bridgerton, Dev Patel in David Copperfield, there's even things like Sanditon, the Spanish Princess. People are striving, I think, to make the genre more inclusive. And some of that, by the way, let's be clear, is actually based on historical accuracy. I think a lot of people don't really understand that, but it is… So much of the conversation [on set] was geared to design and like the actors were so actively part of that because I do not have the knowledge [Freida Pinto] has and her being able to share that knowledge with each department myself only made the film richer.

You can watch the cast and director’s full comments on the topic in the video above. As Jones said, there’s been a handful of movies and television shows in the last few years that have casted non-white actors in period pieces in an effort for more inclusion to exist within Hollywood. Another great point the filmmaker shared is how people of color did exist in the Regency period in England. But in the past it has been erased and the genre has centered on white characters exclusively. 

Mr. Malcolm’s List starts with soon-to-be Marvel star Zawe Ashton as Julia Thistlewaite, who is left feeling humiliated when Dìrísù’s Mr. Malcolm decides to reject her after a single one of their dates led him to realize she did not meet the requirements of a secret list he uses to determine who he will marry. Once Julia finds out about the list, she recruits Pinto’s Selena to meet all the standards for a wife to later break his heart and reveal she has a list of her own. But as Malcolm and Selena get to know each other, they start to make a real connection. 

You can get tickets (opens in new tab) to the new 2022 movie release, now playing in theaters now and look forward to another regency romance in Persuasion, hitting Netflix July 15.  

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Sarah El-Mahmoud

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.