Amanda-Rae Prescott has been writing, blogging, and podcasting about expanding diversity onscreen and inside the period drama fandom for the past 6 years. This article is based on Prescott’s extensive work covering the conflicts between white Jane Austen fans and BIPOC fans of Austen’s works. Drawing from over a years’ worth of observations and discussions, Prescott has previously presented parts of this work as a commentator on shows including GBH'sDrama After Dark and podcasts by fellow pop culture reporters and commentators.

Sanditon fans are celebrating the announcement that BritBox UK is replacing ITV as the UK sponsor for seasons 2 and 3 of the MASTERPIECE series. However, the protracted renewal (ITV announced the cancellation after season 1 in December of 2019) comes at the cost of losing Theo James to The Time Traveler’s Wife and other projects. The departure of James’ character Sidney Parker puts Sanditon in the best position possible to adjust the story to take advantage of the new climate in period drama and improve upon past success. The only thing holding back this potential for progress may be the fandom itself.

Fans may believe their persistence changed minds in the UK, but it’s important to remember that there has been a considerable shift in the entertainment industry since ITV announced the Sanditon cancellation in 2019. Bridgertondelivering record breaking viewership and profits for Netflix is a prime example. Viewers flocked to Bridgerton because they saw a world with multiple Black characters. Most importantly, Bridgerton rejected the model of whitewashed Austen adaptations.

After airing, the team behind Bridgerton listened to calls from its BIPOC fanbase to upgrade the nameless Asian characters in the background of ball scenes to main characters. In response, South Asian actress Simone Ashley was announced as the female lead for Season 2. Although some fans were stunned that Regé-Jean Page, the Black actor who played the Season 1 leading man, the Duke of Hastings, left Bridgerton, the show did not abandon the promise to expand diversity.

In contrast, the Sanditon fandom is still largely dominated by white fans who do not realize that their year and a half of advocacy for Sidlotte’s happy ending comes at the cost of Georgiana’s fanbase and plot development. Efforts by BIPOC fans to highlight these issues went ignored or were even met by criticism and online abuse. Some are still claiming Sanditon should continue to center two white main characters in order to be “successful.” Unfortunately, some Austen fans and Sanditon bloggers hitched their wagon to the outdated whitewashed production model with only token lip-service to diversity that existed pre-pandemic.

So far, Sanditon Season 2 is already shaping up to be more inclusive than the first season. Crystal Clarke, who plays Georgiana,announced that additional Black writers were hired for the new episodes. This is the most important takeaway from the Sanditon renewal, but unfortunately, many fans are too hung up on Sidney leaving to recognize that the tides are turning in the entertainment industry and at MASTERPIECE. Suzanne Simpson, the Executive Producer of MASTERPIECE, alluded to this in the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast episode previewing the future of the series, which will include more Black British history. When this interview was recorded, the Sanditon renewal was not yet public, but it is clear now that the series was revived because it naturally fits this mission.

James’ departure leaves room for Sanditon to tap into the audience who never saw the first season, and also to address the biggest issues many POC fans had with last season. Season 2 can explore Georgiana’s full backstory and incorporate Caribbean history in a way that is true to Austen’s era. Otis may not come back, but Sanditon can address what life was really like in the Regency for Black men in ways Bridgerton can’t, because that show is grounded in fantasy. There is room for both re-creation and fantasy in the period drama space, but neither can go forward without the awareness that all must appeal to more than white audiences.

The Sanditon fandom spent so much time talking about Sidney and Charlotte that they failed to see that many fans were also interested in the supporting cast. Not everyone liked Sidney; some fans were rooting for Stringer to have a chance of happiness with Charlotte. Esther and Lord Babington gained a massive following because their story had a happy ending. Clara and Arthur’s stories gained some momentum in the fandom as well. Depending on who can return from the cast, all of these stories have the potential to enrich the world around Charlotte and Georgiana.

Georgiana was a massive draw for BIPOC and for white fans who wanted to see Austen adaptations go in a new direction. If BIPOC didn’t consider Sanditon important, they would not have spent so much time defending Georgiana’s character against critics who called her “rude and ungrateful” for standing up to Lady Denham. BIPOC fans tried to join the fandom, but they were silenced by the Sidlotte fans who saw Georgiana as an unwelcome obstacle to their ship dominating the fandom conversation. The fandom message last season on social media was loud and clear: Don’t join if you don’t agree that Sidlotte was your favorite part of the show.

Instead of realizing James’ departure allows Sanditon to be more competitive in the media market, the toxic side of the renewal campaign is rearing its ugly head on social media — just look at the replies to MASTERPIECE’s tweet announcing the news. Some are even going as far as to call for a boycott of the new seasons of Sanditon because Charlotte won’t have her happy ending with Sidney after all. Instead of wishing Theo James good luck with The Time Traveler's Wife, the fan reaction is mostly claiming he is selfish for supporting the ending of Sidney's story. This glass-completely-empty approach is toxic and the antithesis of what MASTERPIECE is working towards.

It is not too late for the fandom to change course and embrace the new Sanditon. But first, the lessons from PineappleGate about listening to BIPOC fans need to be re-learned. Amplify and listen to the voices of Black and POC fans in the fandom, especially those who were not fans of Sidlotte or the renewal campaign. No one likes to be disappointed, but it is extremely important for Sanditon fans to step back and realize that losing Sidney doesn’t mean they should give up on the show. Making Sanditon more inclusive can only lead to a better result in the long run. The way Georgiana was treated on the show made people quit watching, and I believe if she no longer faces racial microaggressions without proper context, those fans will come back. People who have never heard of Sanditon will catch up and watch Season 2. And most important of all, Sanditon will become a series that’s still celebrated at MASTERPIECE’s 75th and 100th Anniversaries.