America is not a monarchy — no matter how badly Donald Trump wishes otherwise. And because we don’t have a royal family to fixate on, we obsess about our equivalent: Hollywood. After all, it’s a collection of rich, powerful, elite, beautiful people who control the cultural narrative and set the trends.
Harry and Meghan are embracing the American lifestyle, with its opportunity to remake yourself as well as create content — not just be content.
Harry and Meghan parted ways with Buckingham Palace and gave up their titles and state funding for royal duties in January. But this week made it clear just what they traded the royal realm for. On Wednesday, hundreds of years after revolutionaries made the case for the supremacy of the American system and decades after Hollywood began to beam its influence farther and wider than the British Empire ever did, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex swapped life in the British royal family for a multiyear deal with Netflix.
The couple are writing a new chapter in the age-old American story of reinvention and self-determination by announcing that they are rejecting the British monarchy for the stuff of American dreams. They’ve decided they can have more power over their lives and influence over everyone else from Hollywood than from Buckingham Palace.
Per the Netflix deal, Harry and Meghan’s yet-to-be-named production company will make “documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming.” Though details are scant, it sounds a lot like the ambitions of another royal-ish American couple, Barack and Michelle Obama.
And who better to deliver this endorsement of American versus European celebrity than a biracial actress and lifestyle blogger hitched to a second-born prince who insisted on serving in combat and marrying for love? As cultural critic Syreeta McFadden has noted, Meghan and Harry’s relationship is remarkable because it means “the old colonial order has eroded, at least in part, among even the remaining aristocracy.”
Perhaps because of that, when Meghan tried her best to accommodate the British royal family while remaining an autonomous agent, she was treated abysmally in the British press. She had to endure racist comments, criticism that she touched her pregnant belly too much, judgment of her ability to mother and even hold her child properly, gossip about her relationship with her father and snide asides about her past divorce.
She was seen as a Yoko Ono figure, breaking up the band. Articles were written about how she failed to sit properly in a chair, how her bra strap snuck out and how her dark shade of nail polish was inappropriate, as well as her audacity in serving avocado toast (“Meghan’s favourite avocado snack,” proclaimed the headline in The Daily Mail, “is fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder.”)
It’s unsurprising, then, that this latest move would elicit more hate. Social media users are mocking the couple for saying they wanted a private life and then moving to Santa Barbara, California. A British talk show host said the partnership with Netflix “‘irritates the hell out of me. … They have been given this deal because of who they are, not because what they have proved they can do.”
But Meghan is having the last laugh as she and Harry fully embrace America. Despite what the British press would have you believe, Harry has made it clear that he’s not being dragged kicking and screaming. With a well-documented ambivalence about royal life, Harry has been candid about the traumatic effect the death of his mother, Princess Diana, had on him. He experienced panic attacks and sought counseling.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12 and then shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life, but also my work, as well,” he said on a podcast in 2017. It’s no secret that he blames the British media for causing her tragic car accident, and it only seems logical that he would want both to protect his family and to exert control over his life with a fresh start in a different place.
Meghan and Harry have indicated that they see the opportunity with Netflix as a chance to reverse some of the pain and scorn they’ve experienced. “Through our work with diverse communities and their environments, to shining a light on people and causes around the world, our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” the couple explained in a statement about the partnership. “As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us, as is powerful storytelling through a truthful and relatable lens.”
The focus on family combats ways that Meghan has been criticized — for a fractured relationship with her father, for her divorce and for her totally normal behavior during pregnancy and new motherhood. And the “truthful and relatable lens” is a direct strike at the media for distorting the narrative that is Harry and Meghan’s lived experience.
Meghan and Harry have indicated that they see the opportunity with Netflix as a chance to reverse some of the pain and scorn they’ve experienced.
We all know that the American myths of rags to riches and upward mobility are just that: stories we tell to define core values of a country that is still fairly new. Has America failed to help people make those myths a reality? You bet. But in choosing to relocate to America, Meghan and Harry are saying it’s more desirable to take a chance in America and be Hollywood producers than to remain in the British monarchy.
While British tabloids are once again mocking the couple over the move, it’s a moot point. Harry and Meghan are embracing the American lifestyle, with its opportunity to remake yourself as well as create content — not just be content. The fact is that Harry and Meghan are more in control of the royal story than anyone back in the U.K.