Denée Benton: Duchess Meghan was ‘set up for an incredible amount of abuse’

Denée Benton is one of the stars of HBO’s The Gilded Age, a show I absolutely adore. Denee plays the young Peggy Scott, a promising journalist and friend to Louisa Jacobson’s Marian Brook. Louisa and Denee cover the September issue of Tatler, and interestingly enough, they did separate interviews. I haven’t even read Louisa’s interview yet (I will get to it at some point), but Denee’s interview is really good. She talks about what it’s like to be a Black actress in a period-piece show and how she views modern royalty – it was Tatler, so of course they asked her about the Duchess of Sussex!! Some highlights:

She has the posture of a ballerina: ‘My friends joke I must have been royalty in a past life. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m not afraid to ask for help and support, or for someone to bring me nice things.’

She felt disconnected when she watched period dramas: No matter how comfortable she was speaking the lines and wearing the clothes of women from the 18th and 19th centuries, on-screen depictions of this era didn’t include women who looked like her. ‘Unfortunately, whitewashing can be such an intentional part of keeping people out of stories so that we don’t feel empowered.’

The cliches of Peggy: Although she remembers feeling ‘immediately connected’ to Peggy on reading the script, there were some moments where she felt the character veered towards cliché. She discussed her concerns informally with the show’s writers (who were always receptive, she adds). Then, in the summer of 2020, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis triggered a racial reckoning across America, and conversations erupted across the film and television industries about the importance of racial diversity both in front of and behind the camera. Benton wrote a letter to HBO, the network behind The Gilded Age, outlining the ways in which she wanted the character of Peggy to evolve.

She wanted Peggy to feel real: Her main goal, she explains, ‘was to get black women as an integral part of the decision-makers on the creative team’. As a result, elements of her character, Peggy, were rewritten with nuance and depth. ‘Her internal life came to life… The women I get stopped by in the street now are black women in my neighbourhood in Brooklyn who are like, “Oh my God, we love Peggy – we see ourselves.” That’s what I wanted.’

What does Denee make of the way Britain treated the Duchess of Sussex? ‘It’s such a layered conversation, obviously. Being the first and only [person of colour], you’re really set up for an incredible amount of abuse – the system isn’t set up to support you. And I think that [because of] the lineage of the really profoundly devastating effects of colonisation as it relates to the monarchy, you can’t necessarily just pop a black person in. It requires a lot of reckoning. Unless you’re ready to do that work, then the person who’s put in that position ends up suffering more than the changes they are able to make. It’s [going to take] much more than one person coming in to trigger all of that change. It doesn’t really work. They just get eaten alive or make the choice to protect themselves and [in the latter case], I’m like, power to you, sis!’

[From Tatler]

Her answer about Meghan is AMAZING! OMG, I genuinely wish that quote was repeated indefinitely whenever there’s any kind of discussion about what Meghan stepped into and the forces that came down on her. That being said, I’m not sure that it was *always* going to be the case that the first person of color to marry into the Windsor clan was going to be torn apart, abused, maligned and smeared. I think some of it was specific to Meghan and her charisma, work ethic and beauty, which (we know) inspired a huge amount of jealousy and pettiness. But yes, any POC – especially a woman of color – marrying into that dreadful family was going to suffer.

As for what Denee says about asking the writers to add more to the Peggy character… I mean, what we saw on the screen was *after* those conversations, and even then, Peggy was pretty two-dimensional. That being said, I enjoy the fact that Peggy has more sense than Marian and that she’s showing how a young, educated Black woman would operate in that world and in that time period.

Cover courtesy of Tatler, Tatler pic courtesy of Denee’s IG.

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63 Responses to “Denée Benton: Duchess Meghan was ‘set up for an incredible amount of abuse’”

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  1. equality says:

    I’m sure the RF will make very sure there isn’t a second POC marrying into the “working” royals.

    • Chloe says:

      Or… they will make sure it will be an Candance Owens type and then say “see it was meghans fault all along”

      Can’t see George coming home with a black woman though.

      • Noki says:

        Candace Owen is ‘too black’ , Meghan was an extremely fair woc and they still treated her like a zoo monkey. Imagine if Harry had fallen in love with Lupita or something, then they would have lost their collective minds.

      • Nedsdag says:

        Or more like Kemi Badenoch, the woman who ran for Tory Party leadership.

      • Athyrmose says:

        @noki Your comment…yikes.

  2. M says:

    That’s the catch though right? There was never supposed to be a black person in the BRF. They aren’t interested in a reckoning because that would mean they’re wrong. Gotta keep the masses ignorant so they don’t overthrow you.

    • Deering24 says:

      Yep. British traitor Kim Philby (of all people) noted that the English class system is a poison slowly eating away at society. Until these folks own up and resolve their wrongs, the country is going to keep sliding into irrelevance.

  3. Lili says:

    i really like what she said, but based on the royal family’s recent history they do not learn. between Wallis, Diana and now Meghan these are women of their time, but they are not handled as such

    • Amy T says:

      Yes, Diana and Meghan. Wallis, not so much.

    • Jaded says:

      Wallis was very problematic. She was manipulative, greedy and literally stole Edward VIII from her then best friend Thelma Furness. She loved the lifestyle and power more than anything, and was more than willing to side with Neville Chamberlain on appeasement. She and EVIII deliberately cultivated friendships with high level Nazis who planned to reinstate him as a puppet monarch once Britain capitulated.

  4. Chloe says:

    “It requires a lot of reckoning. Unless you’re ready to do that work, then the person who’s put in that position ends up suffering more than the changes they are able to make. It’s [going to take] much more than one person coming in to trigger all of that change. It doesn’t really work. They just get eaten alive or make the choice to protect themselves..”

    Finally someone said it. This is it. And dare i say that there are some black brits that also don’t get this? They expected Meghan to stay and force the change and are now angry at her because she didn’t.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      It’s the word. Reckoning. To have that word on the tip of your tongue cuts me to the core.

      • Both Sides Now says:

        @ Mabs A’Mabbin, that’s the word that the royal family have zero interest in delving into. As such, it would bring out all of the ugliness, as well as their apparent history of blatant racism commitments to this day.

        I find all of Denées comments spot on!! I also love that she approached the HBO writers to give her character dimensions, and they have so far given her character the well deserved due. I have great admiration for her stance regarding Meghan as well. It is long past due for people to start spelling out the many layers of the great injustices that the BRF, courtiers, BM and the men in grey have been conducting.

    • Woke says:

      There’s this dichotomy with black brits with Meghan that I find fascinating. Some are angry at her for even daring entering that space and some are angry at her for leaving and not forcing the change. There’s too much good or bad projected onto her.

      • Cait says:

        Black Brits are largely 1st and 2nd generation immigrants. They are also like 2% of the population. They have a more simplistic view of race and are badly affected by British colonization.

    • Abby says:

      This quote is so compelling!

    • Shoop says:

      Love Peggy, and enjoyed the Golden Age, but I’ve gone off it a bit since discovering Julian Fellowes is a Tory: he is depicting the upstairs downstairs life probably because that’s the way he thinks life should be, with droves of kindly poor people serving the elite.

  5. Harper says:

    Strong comments. Yes, it was all too much for one woman to endure. But if even one of the senior royals had stood up for Meghan during the worst of it, instead of contributing to the pile-on, it may have made a difference. Meghan’s story will never be truly told until someone on the inside reveals how much the family worked with the media to take her down. Harry might tell it; maybe Omid will in his new book?

    • Belli says:

      Yes. It was the fact that the reporters knew that she had no support from the palace apart from Harry that made them confident enough to tear into her as viciously as they did. If they’d thought that by being horrible to Meghan, they’d lose access to other royals, they would have reined themselves in a bit. Not much, but a bit.

      The first royal reporter who was involved to write an insider’s tell-all about the briefings they received from the RF would rake it in.

    • LaraK says:

      I think it will be decades before the full extent comes out. The RF has to protect themselves, ans so do the underlings. Everyone who is complicit has something to lose. But eventually someone will be offered enough money and they will be angry enough to clear their conscience.

      The thing is, the senior royals would NEVER have stood up for her. I don’t think they would have stood for anyone charismatic and popular with Harry because they can’t have some upstart eclipsing the future king. But the fact that an American woman of color was eclipsing their dry toast heir made it just impossible. There is literally nothing Meghan could have done to gain their support. Reckoning indeed.

  6. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Whoa! Those are some seriously eloquent, pointed and effected words. From beginning to end.

  7. Shawna says:

    I love Peggy! Can’t wait to see how her story develops in the next season.

  8. Alexandria says:

    She absolutely nailed it. I’ve seen criticism that Meghan should have done her research, she should have known. She was lied to! They said they would protect her. The onus has always been on them (both the family and the stupid firm) to provide her with an inclusive and supportive environment at work. To show that racism by the media would strictly not be tolerated. To show that they needed to change and adapt whatever warped employment policies they had. Where is their accountability? None! The British royal family FAILED her and failed all POC in the UK. They lied.

    • Debbie says:

      Let’s face it, if only they’d been as solicitous to Meghan as they were to Kate’s wiglets. As it is, the RF either joined in with the British media or ignored it, thereby signaling that it was okay to continue abusing her.

  9. Izzy says:

    That first quote… such magnificent shade!! Eclipse-level shade.

  10. Stef says:

    Very eloquently said and her description makes perfect sense.

    It’s hard to see so much hate for Meghan when all she wanted to do was make positive change and use her new position to help people. Even the Twitter trolls who respond to Kaiser and Celebitchy’s tweets use similiar language to call her a bully, yet there has been ZERO proof of any bullying. They just latch onto a certain narrative to justify their blind hate for someone they’ll likely never meet.

    At the end of the day, I think a lot of that hate comes down to sad, bitter, and downright ugly jealousy:

    Meghan married the handsome, kind prince and was brought into the “fairy tale” RF life so many dream of, only to expose it for the toxic cesspool it is, then leave to create an even better life for herself and her new family. The audacity!

    • Snuffles says:


      It WAS a fairy tale. A Grimm Brother’s, fairy tale. The dark German stuff, not that Disney-fied shit.

      • Stef says:


        For some though, it seems like a fantasy life filled with status, castles, tiaras, and public adoration for minimal work. Turns out it’s a hellscape that destroys the women who marry into it.

      • Bisynaptic says:

        Well, the House of Windsor is German, so… apt.

  11. Bettyrose says:

    I’m glad she addressed the problems with Peggy. The character starts out as a too pure to be true. She’s gracious and understanding about everyone’s prejudices and works to make everyone comfortable. Her character evolution has begun and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

    The comments on Meghan are spot on. There simply wasn’t a place for Meghan in a 1000 year old racist institution. Wills would’ve been the first monarch of a modern generation, but he’s holding firm on being an anachronism. I truly believe history will remember Meghan as the start of the end of the British monarchy. Her mere existence revealed cracks in the facade that are spreading too quickly to be patched.

    • Snuffles says:


      I wouldn’t say Peggy was too pure. As a black woman operating in the world of rich white people she HAD to be that way. But when she was in her own neighborhood and Marian showed up uninvited, she could be more blunt.

      • Bettyrose says:

        @ Snuffles – That’s a good point. Peggy had to be that way. But it was hard to watch in contrast to Marian, who’s such a bland silly character. The trajectory for Peggy’s character looks good, though, and hopefully will over take Marian as a lead character/major story line.

  12. SIde Eye says:

    Goodness she is drop dead gorgeous. I love everything she said! I haven’t watched the show but now I want to! I deliberately avoid period pieces for all the reasons she stated – the White washing is absolutely shameless. Movies about Jesus where everyone is blond and blue eyed. I mean wtf. Movies set in the Middle East where everyone is White. And of course free Black people just didn’t exist in Europe until the early 2000s…

    I love that she asked for Black women in the writer’s room. This is badly needed on every set. Also, I am here for that first quote!

  13. Snuffles says:

    Is the Gilded Age just starting to air in the UK? Great answer by Denee. I dare say she was expecting that question and had her response locked and loaded.

  14. aquarius64 says:

    So some Black Brits thought Meghan should have been Rosa Parks like and stood up to the abuse? If so where was the support of Black Brits besides the journalists of color when they saw Meghan’s mistreatment? And the resentment of some Black Brits for entering the royal space? I would like to hear that reasoning.

    • Jaded says:

      I think some black brits saw Meghan’s joining the BRF as capitulating to a bunch of white, rich, lazy toffs, wanting to be “one of them” instead of leading the charge to modernize the monarchy and use it as a platform for her good works. Maybe those who didn’t support her then have changed their minds after seeing what a hellscape she was put through.

      • Christine says:

        I really hope you are right, Jaded, and the Black Brits who have turned on Meghan change their opinion of her.

        She never had a chance, if Black people in England are mad at the American that didn’t stay in England to be abused by a thousand year old institution.

    • Snuffles says:

      Do Black Brits not realize that Rosa Parks had Martin Luther King and a whole, well organized movement behind her giving support? In the UK Meghan only had Harry, no one else over there supported her.

      • Stef says:

        Excellent point, @Snuffles

      • CheChe says:

        I met a biracial Brit woman at a party in 2018. I was going to England to see the royal wedding exhibit at Windsor Castle and some other museums . This woman was dismissive of Meghan and all the buzz. She kept insisting I visit Harrods. I was so excited to talk about Meghan and the excitement surrounding the royal wedding and all I got was attitude. Later in the news many black Brits suggested Meghan abandoned her duty to POC in Britain. Where was the vocal support during the daily media abuse?

      • Nyro says:

        Black Brits and Black Americans are not the same. We’re different people with different experiences. I knew they wouldn’t rally around her or have her back because they don’t even do that for each other really.

      • Christine says:

        Word, Snuffles.

  15. SarahCS says:

    I don’t know if anyone outside the UK can access this but a friend recently recommended the BBC podcast You’re Dead to Me, it’s a history podcast where the host has a subject matter expert and comedian on to discuss that week’s topic (with some laughs). The most recent one is on Black Georgian England and it was fascinating with excellent guests. Apparently there were 15,000 black people in London alone in this period. The stories they shared really underlined the whitewashing of history here. The racism runs so deep in this country.

  16. usavgjoe says:

    Speak on it Denee!!!!

  17. Amy Bee says:

    I love her comments about Meghan. They were spot on. The Royal Family is not set up to accept people of colour not at the family or courtier levels. This is one thing I hope Harry has realised and writes about in his book.

    • Christine says:

      This is a really good point, Amy Bee. The royal family doesn’t have POC working for them abovestairs, how the hell did Meghan have a single chance?

    • ArtHistorian says:

      The BRF made sure that the royal households are exempt from anti-discrimination laws – so they didn’t need to accept changing times.

  18. Nedsdag says:

    Go, Peggy!

  19. DeluxeDuckling says:

    Love that black dress the sleeves are awesome

  20. L4Frimaire says:

    I agree with her take on Meghan. Some of the criticism when she left was that she didn’t want to work, how she could no longer have a platform to change the monarchy and what she represented for the Commonwealth, but to expect that from one person was both unrealistic and placing the burden on her. Let her do all the work while we try to crush her, then blame her when she won’t be crushed and leaves. As for the Gilded Age, it’s ok but very one-dimensional. It really sanitizes the upper echelon, especially yet old families and puts their ruthless behavior all down to social climbing women, while ignoring the actual social turmoil of that time. The Alienist was much better in that regard. The Peggy character is pretty good although her plot line is a bit silly with her “ secret”. The lead character, Louisa Jacobson, is practically comatose so everyone around her might as well be acting with a cardboard cutout. She is so bland that you want her to just hurry up and leave when she appears in a scene.

  21. Mooney says:

    It’ll be interesting with the camb kids in the future. Maybe one of them will actually end up marrying just the type of person that their parents and the firm hates. Maybe even leave the family to be able to marry them, like Harry would have left. But that is,if they can escape the influence of their both sets of grandparents and parents.

    • Puppetgirl says:

      You know I wonder if Charlotte and Louis will be the ones to really escape and cut ties from the British monarchy I wouldn’t blame them if they did

      • Lulu says:

        I have my doubts that the Cambridge kids would follow in Harry’s footsteps and pursue ‘real’ lives outside the royal bubbles. They aren’t getting that type of positive influence from either of their parents families. Would love to be wrong about this though… maybe future teachers, friends and social circles..? They have been proven to have an even greater impact on a persons life during adolescence. Good luck to them, as it will be an uphill battle for sure.

      • Nyro says:

        You guys put a lot of faith in those three kids being raised by two racist, status quo upholding, humorless dullards. The odds of them being anti-racist, free thinking, and interesting people who will challenge the system are extremely low. They’re more likely to be just as bad or even worse than their parents.

  22. Stef says:

    Guilded Cage is a wonderful, slightly fluffy period piece that is well created. Denée’s character is the most interesting plot line, IMO, and I also enjoyed Cynthia Nixon’s character. Hope to re-watch it soon!

    • ArtHistorian says:

      The costumes are absolutely gorgeous!

      • Aengus says:

        The other lady is lovely in appearance, but Denee looks phenomenal as she is styled and her face is stunning. She alone should have been on that cover.

  23. Lov3zone says:

    I agree with her….ANY PERSON OF COLOUR WOULD BE TORTURED coming in…even if they were Not beautyfull or worked tirelessly…they would STILL be chewed up and spit out!

  24. blunt talker says:

    Meghan did not have a chance in hell of ever succeeding in that institution-that institution was not set up with people of color in their family and having a voice to make changes-this was obvious to me when Harry and Meghan were dating and the racist dog whistles started-then after their wedding it became a full on onslaught of dog whistles and hate-the royal family did not care about people of color because they don’t see them as important to their institution. God bless the Sussex family and keep them safe.