I’ll bet I’m the only blogger to use that clever opening.
Pemberley Digital, the same web entertainment group who brought us The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last year, has launched a new Jane Austen update based on Emma. The first episode was posted to YouTube on Monday.
Emma Approved is as distinct from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as Emma is from Pride and Prejudice. While Lizzie Bennet was a struggling middle-class grad student with a snarky, cynical outlook on her world and its inhabitants, Emma Woodhouse is a successful yuppie overflowing with unchallenged optimism and eager to make everyone’s dreams come true. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, William Darcy started off as Lizzie’s antagonist (in her mind, anyway) and didn’t appear onscreen until halfway through the series. (Ah, #DarcyDay. The memories.) Emma Approved shows us Alex Knightly interacting with our intrepid heroine in the first episode, and while they have major personality differences and like to give each other a hard time, it’s clear that Emma and Alex are good friends and have been for awhile. Their chemistry is of a different nature than Lizzie and Darcy’s, but equally appealing.
Emma Approved is similar to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in that the source material has been politically corrected in the best of ways. A few of my favorite changes:
~ Emma and Alex don’t seem to have a significant age gap. I don’t know their history yet, but I doubt this Mr. Knightly has known Emma since he was sixteen and she was a baby, or has been love with her since she was thirteen and he was twenty-nine. Yeah. That was in the book. He said he fell in love with her when she was thirteen. I know, I know, historical context cultural differences blah blah blah, but HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HER WHEN SHE WAS THIRTEEN.
~ Women having careers is taken for granted. It’s pretty obvious that this Emma, like her literary counterpart, is wealthy and well-connected. And she’s used her wealth and connections toward a successful career “run[ning] the matchmaking and lifestyle division of the developing Highbury Partner’s Lifestyle group.” (I’m still not totally sure what that means, either.) Ms. Taylor, the future Mrs. Weston, is a personal chef and “power homemaker,” and half of a power couple Emma’s matchmaking services helped create. Emma’s on the hunt for a new personal assistant, whom I think/hope will be Harriet Smith.
~ Completely unrelated to social issues, I like the name Alex way better than the name George. If your name is George, I’m sure you’re a very nice person and I mean no offense. But can I call you Alex?
~ I’m always a little nervous about showing excitement over this kind of thing, because I’m afraid it’ll be perceived as negativity or oversensitivity or overthinking or race-baiting or even reverse racism. All-white casts don’t take away my enjoyment of a good story. They really don’t. A heroine being white doesn’t take away my ability to identify with her or see myself in her. It really doesn’t. But there’s just something about the experience of having grown up as a girl of color obsessed with classic Western literature that I don’t know how to explain to someone who hasn’t shared that experience. I don’t know how to help you understand why this is such a big deal to me if you don’t already. But here it is…
The heroine in an adaptation of classic Western literature is a woman of color. Not the antagonist. Not the love interest. Not the sidekick. Not the best friend. Not the mentor. Not someone in orbit around the white star. The heroine. The protagonist. The person whose story this is. FREAKIN’ EMMA.
Ironically, although Emma’s mixed-race awesomeness is a huge deal to me, I’m counting on Pemberley Digital to make it a non-issue in-universe, much like they did with the multiracial cast in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. After all, the whole point of adapting Jane Austen’s timeless work into a modern update is that there’s something universally human about these characters and their stories that transcends race, culture, and time.