Over the past week there’s been endless coverage of Harry & Meghan, Netflix’s most-viewed documentary premiere, the show that’s offered the pair a chance to win the all-out narrative war that has emerged between them and the palace.
Who will emerge victorious? It depends where you’re watching. In the UK, Meghan is pilloried as a traitor – especially by rightwing columnists like Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan – but in the US her story plays as an emotional one and commentators cannot tell it without analyzing the palace’s treatment of her from a racial lens. Some Black American fans of the duchess see parallels in her story to their own lives. Writing for the New York Times, the activist and scholar Salamishah Tillet said Meghan’s exasperated remark that she’d “tried so hard” to fit into the royal mold rang true as “a frustratingly familiar refrain” for women of color.
Bryndis Roberts, a longtime follower of the royals who grew up in the segregated south, told the BBC she had watched the series “with tears in [her] eyes.”
US reporters, unfettered by British service, have less of a problem with critiques of the royals. When The View’s conservative voice, Alyssa Farah Giffin, complained that the couple couldn’t really be “suffering” since they live in a $30m mansion, Sunny Hostin responded with a strong defence. “They are suffering, and they took over their narrative, and they have every single right to do that, and I think what they went through in terms of how racist that family was against her, in terms of how racist that country was against her , that’s something that King Charles can handle and can take care of, and he seems not to be able to do that,” Hostin said.
The British government-adviser-turned journalist Ayesha Hazarika told CBS News that Harry and Meghan represented a new generation being oppressed by racism disguised as traditional values. “Meghan and Harry have become a bit of a lightning conductor for a lot of anger from a lot of these people who are clinging to the past,” she said.
It’s an attitude that stands in stark contrast to Britain, where Clarkson has spent the past 48 hours leading news bulletins for writing that he hates Meghan “on a cellular level” and is “dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.”
Clarkson was rebuffed online by figures like the author Philip Pullman, the comedians Dom Joly and Jason Manford, and Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. The American writer Roxane Gay, who covered the series in a New York Times opinion piece, responded: “The way these British folks are obsessed with Meghan Markle is wild. You just know every damn thing Meghan and Harry said in their doc was true. I would bet they held back.”
Clarkson later backtracked, though he didn’t apologize. His attitude is reflective of much of the British media, not least his Sun stablemate Piers Morgan, whose nonstop coverage of Meghan often verges into obsessive territory. Morgan has called Harry a “cold-hearted traitor to his country” and Meghan a “virus” for taking part in the series.
The UK’s Times has called the couple’s storytelling efforts “rank hypocrisy”. The editorial board suggests that, after trashing the monarchy, the Sussexes should renounce their titles: “As commoners live overseas, they may find a new role that brings them happiness. Their present posture is false and irresponsible.”
But does the British response really matter? The Sussexes have laser-focused their PR efforts on US soil, which makes sense given the home they have made in the celebrity enclave of Montecito. In their extended rebranding exercise, which also includes Harry’s forthcoming memoir and Me’s Archetypes podcast, they are hoping for reviews like that from Vanessa Friedman, the New York Times style critic, who wrote that the neutral tone of the couple’s clothing and their minimalist, sunny home presented “a picture of relaxed serenity and ease of the most highly aspirational kind”.
In women’s media, the series is ignored as a battle between the Sussexes and the Palace and celebrated as a reality TV wonderland. “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle release sweet new videos of Archie and Lili in docuseries’ second trailer,” reads one Elle headline. “Harry & Meghan’s body language shows they are ‘crazy about each other’,” Bustle wrote.
The US response isn’t universally glowing. Conservative commentators in the States, like their counterparts across the pond, have come after Meghan for the same tropes: on her SiriusXM show, Megyn Kelly called Meghan “whiny, woke, and annoying”.
But mostly the Sussexes won’t care if they’re able to become the lucrative lifestyle guru that have drawn sympathetic US viewers – especially if those fans stick around for other Harry and Meghan projects.