Notes on faith: Watch the throne — for what ‘Queen Charlotte’ teaches us about envisioning
Amid the runaway success of Netflix's "Queen Charlotte," Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones explores using the series to envision a reality of our own design.
“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirational, interdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.
“You are the diamond of the season,” is one of Queen Charlotte’s most famous lines from Shonda Rhimes’ “Bridgerton” franchise, only reserved for the most eligible woman introduced into British “highborn” society — or, “the ton” — each year. Set in Regency-era London (1811-1820), the show is based on Julia Quinn’s bestselling historical romance novels. Representing a rare moment of racial diversity in the history of the British royal family, its recently released prequel, “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story,” is inspired by the life of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III.
If you’ve yet to enter the “Bridgerton” universe, the series follows the very real Queen Charlotte’s emergence into the royal family as a supposedly African-descended woman of mixed ancestry in a fictitious social experiment. During this version of “the royal experiment,” British nobility is already integrated with people of African ancestry and other people of color, though at a lower status level. But what is perhaps most striking about how Queen Charlotte is portrayed is her commitment to ensuring her racial cohort in the ton, embodied by the Anglo-African Lady Danbury, enters the upper echelons with her.
Some fans have said this franchise is a modern-day answer to a decades-long void in cinematic and animated depictions of royalty and nobility. Having debuted in 2020, Bridgerton is also credited with providing a much-needed escape amid a global pandemic and Black Lives Matter uprising, a vehicle through which viewers could distract themselves from an often overwhelming sense of depression, the stagnancy of isolation, and working remotely.
The show’s imaginary world, filled with grand balls, lavish parties, and beautiful estates, continues to provide an enticing escape from reality. And yet, our inclination toward escapism can also be channeled into an envisioning practice; one in which we take seriously the biblical text that urges us to be intentional about what we ponder: “And now, dear siblings, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8, NLT).” Countless religious leaders have recommended that a robust imagination and engagement of the senses can be the keys to dealing with anxiety — and moving toward the manifestation of our dreams.
Through “Queen Charlotte,” we are called to reconsider what we have been told are unlikely scenarios of societal power shifts. However, this unlikely powershift actually happened, one in which a woman was crowned as the royal family navigated George III’s mental wellness, whether she actually identified as Black or not. And yet, it can’t be ignored that this revived bit of history converges with the leadership of African ancestry in the highest pinnacles of the Western world, from the U.S. government to Meghan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry.
In a world that constantly reminds people of African ancestry that we are the “bottom caste” — the oppressed, the dispossessed, and the disenfranchised, how can we envision new realities of ascent into realms of our own that are inviting and fitting for who we are?
Entering ‘the theater of the mind‘
Personally, I started to pay more attention to Regency-era novels and films as I finished my first book, “Flaming?” My research kept evoking techniques from one of the self-described flamboyant preachers of the 20th century, the one and only Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, aka “Rev. Ike.” Said to be of African and Dutch-Indonesian ancestry and widely considered one of the godfathers of “prosperity theology,” Rev. Ike reportedly loved to read Regency novels as part of his self-care, knowing that envisioning Black people as aristocracy during his time was taboo.
I know, I know — but hear me out. I am going somewhere, as we preachers say.
Rev. Ike is one of several voices in our history who was often discredited while sharing and teaching common values taught and accepted by non-Black teachers. When I transcribed his sermons and listened to the songs he sang while delivering them, I noticed Rev. Ike drew from Eastern concepts I have heard elsewhere, including by the likes of Deepak Chopra, who focuses on envisioning and manifestation.
According to his close friends, Rev. Ike was a wealthy real estate owner and a passionate participant in the stock market, who intentionally presented himself as “flamboyant” to draw disenfranchised people to his message. A student of several teachers of metaphysics, namely Neville Goddard, who himself was a student of the Ethiopian mystic Rabbi Abdullah, one technique Rev. Ike reportedly employed was to enter the theater of his mind, contemplating the good that he wanted to be, do, and have. He would cultivate possibility in that theater by exposing himself to cultural experiences he was drawn to — including reading Regency-era novels, architecture, and lifestyle magazines.
In doing so, Rev. Ike’s intention was to get into what he emphasized as the feeling of what he envisioned, incorporating all of his senses with delight. He’d say prayers like, “I now enter into the theater of my imagination. I see myself as God sees me, perfect, whole, complete, and divine.”
Whether Rev. Ike, Chopra, or Goddard, all of the above thinkers asserted that when we envision with joy — intentionally focusing on things or matters that are lovely to us — we find alignment with the good we wish to be, do, and have.
An adventure of your design
All of us can benefit from imagery that allows us to explore the unseen and envision what we aspire to in our lives and communities by taking ourselves on a multi-sensory adventure. Your vision of ascension may not be to take the throne in England like Queen Charlotte, or a crown in Egypt like Queen Cleopatra (another recent Netflix biopic). Your vision may be to express yourself fully via a hobby or to master a new trade. Whatever it is that energizes you and keeps you going, delve into its dimensions in your imagination and luxuriate in the possibilities. Transport yourself to the moment when you have become your ideal, meet your match, or are able to bask in the destination of your dreams. Walk it out as though your queendom, kingdom, or kin-dom has come. Then, in the words of Anna Julia Cooper, you open the door for the whole race to enter with you.
Even if this exercise does nothing more than help you simulate and troubleshoot all the possibilities that can occur in your wildest dreams, it will be worth ensuring that the moment it arrives will never be too big for you.
After all, “You are the diamond of the season,” poised to realize the life of your dreams.
Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.
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