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‘Barkskins’ Proves the Best Period Dramas Look Beyond the White Guys

Good review of Zahn’s new tv show Barkskins on Collider:

The past has always been fruitful ground for storytelling, especially thanks to creators who dig into underexplored niches of history, finding unexpectedly human and complex stories to tell about characters who might not be famous legends. Whether real or fictional, shows like the new Nat Geo series Barkskins are at their strongest when they look beyond the sorts of stories we’ve heard before — featuring characters we don’t often see spotlighted in period dramas.

After all, period dramas are haunted by one undeniable trend: Heroes in stories not based on the works of Jane Austen are, more often than not, white men. Part of the issue, of course, is that real-life historical stories about underrepresented groups are often dwarfed by those of white men, as the names of the latter are far more often remembered by history. But when period dramas push to acknowledge unique perspectives, it can often lead to far more interesting storytelling, especially with a TV show like Barkskins, with a relatively large ensemble and a vested interest in going deeper into their characters.

Created by Elwood Reid and based on the epic Annie Proulx novel, the first season of the Nat Geo drama focuses on the colonization of North America by the French in 1693, as indentured servants are brought from Europe to help civilize the untamed country. Like most modern-era period dramas, there’s an emphasis on the dirt, blood, and death which were ever-present parts of frontier life, and the majority of the characters do happen to be white guys. But while Charles Duquet (James Bloor) and Rene Sel (Christian Cooke), two young men who have come to New France in search of new opportunities, are the initial protagonists of Proulx’s novel and the ostensible leads of the series, Barkskins, judged by the metric of representation, actually proves to be pretty impressive.

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