Diverse Hearts In History
On the hunt for a great diverse Historical read, flick, or television show? Check out these recommendations from PHS Assistant Editor Harper Miller. She won't steer you wrong!
Hey Folks, new month, new column! In most mainstream media, PoC (Persons of Color) aren’t seen thriving and leading happy lives, or their endings are tragic. This is especially true for historicals no matter the medium. Struggle is indeed part of our story, but it’s not the only story worth telling. This month I’m here to share my recommendations for diverse historical romances.
Below are some films that depict PoC in loving unions:
Belle (2013) is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the daughter of a British Naval officer and an enslaved African woman. If you get the chance to watch this delightful film, it’s guaranteed to hit you in the feels. Biracial children of this era were often a product of rape, but not so in Belle’s case. Her mother and father had a genuine emotional connection. This film has romantic elements with a touch of legal thriller. Also, it’s directed by Amma Asante, a black woman.
Bessie (2015) is the biopic produced by HBO showcasing legendary blues singer Bessie Smith’s life. The film follows Bessie’s journey from a struggling young singer to becoming one of the most successful black performers during the 1920's and '30's. The depiction of Smith’s relationship with a woman named Lucille is believed to be a mashup of many of her former lovers. There is no mistaking Bessie Smith’s bisexuality in the film, which is also directed by a black woman, Dee Rees.
A United Kingdom (2016) is another Amma Asante film, this time depicting the true-life romance, and later marriage, of Seretse Khama, heir of what is now Botswana, and a white London office worker, Ruth Williams, despite active government plots to keep the couple apart. It’s a fascinating tale of hope and adversity that proves love can conquer all, even international politics.
Loving (2016) is the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial Virginia couple who took their right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court.
The World Unseen (2007) is a drama set in 1950's Cape Town, South Africa at the height of apartheid. The story follows two Indian women who fall in love during this tumultuous period in history.
Still Star-Crossed (2017) is the now-defunct Shonda Rhimes-helmed show that picks up after events in Romeo and Juliet, and has a multicultural cast. I had high hopes for this show! It was pretty ambitious plot-wise and, although it was canceled, I believe it’s still worth a watch.
Nirvana in Fire (2015). Check out the description via Viki:
During the great unrest of 4th-century China, war breaks out between the feudal Northern Wei and Southern Liang dynasties. General Lin Xie of Liang takes his only 17-year-old son, Lin Shu (Hu Ge), into battle and successfully fights off the hostile Wei army. But when a political rival frames General Lin Xie, it causes the deaths of 70,000 Chiyan army soldiers. Lin Shu is able to escape with his life with the help of a loyal subordinate. Twelve years later, Lin Shu establishes the Jiangzuo Alliance and returns to the capital as the Chief Mei Changsu. When the Northern Wei forces mount another attack, to what lengths will Mei Changsu go to protect his own people?
I’m honestly going to subscribe to Viki so I can watch this. There’s also a romantic story arc present. Can you say geeked?!
The Webster Fields series by Mercedes Keyes (available to read via Kindle Unlimited). If you like epic sagas, this is a series you want to dive into. Warning, it’s not for the faint of heart. The brutality of slavery and rape are present, but Mercedes takes you on a journey. No worries, at the conclusion of the tale, there is a guaranteed HEA because that’s what romance delivers!
The Governor’s Sons by Maria McKenzie (also available via Kindle Unlimited) is “a heart-thumping account of forbidden love and political ambition in the deep South, a suspenseful tale of romance, deception, racial tension, and ultimately, racial reconciliation within a powerful southern family.” I adored this story.
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. If you like spies and headstrong heroines, you’ll love this book! Elle is a free woman and spy for the Union. Together, Elle and Malcolm (also a Union spy but posing as a Confederate soldier) decipher and transport messages that help turn the tide of the Civil War.
The Bittersweet Bride by Vanessa Riley. If you like intense historicals with a second-chance romance at the helm, you’ll want to grab this. Theodosia is a recent widow who has to fend for herself and her son. She is reunited with Ewan, an old flame, she thought dead. Of course, with a lead-in like that you know there’s bound to be some angst on board. Oh, the slow burn…
The Preacher’s Promise by Piper Huguley. If you’ve ever wanted to read a historical that highlights life during Reconstruction, this may be your jam. Young school teacher Amanda leaves Oberlin, Ohio destitute after her father passes, but she has a promise to keep. Mayor, blacksmith, and sometimes preacher Virgil is stubborn and thinks Amanda is wrong for his fledgling town, but he’s also made promises. Their wills match, but Virgil’s daughter and the newly free people of Milford, Georgia need an education.
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. What I love about Ms. Bev’s storytelling is you get detailed US History, and an engaging romance rolled into one. Also, Rhine… *swoon* Rhine Fontaine’s fair skin helped him amass a fortune during the early years of western expansion, but when he finds Eddy Carmichael near death in the Nevada desert, he wishes he could live as the free black man he is with the woman he now loves. Eddy is wary of irresistibly handsome and equally charming Rhine and plans to use her savings to leave him and their forbidden attraction and continue her journey to California.
The Doctor’s Discretion by E.E. Ottoman. I loved that this romance was set in 1830's New York! And two gay doctors? Yes, please! Together, they work to save the life of a patient who may not have been born male and risks being shuttered away in an asylum.
An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles is a Victorian London-set M/M romantic suspense. A body is literally dumped onto Clem and Rowley’s doorstep and leads the two men into a world of danger where they are forced to trust one another with their deepest secrets and their hearts. Slow burn romance + mystery = YAY!
Every month you may end up hating me for getting you to spend far more money than you’d like (I regret nothing), but in the end, your reading and viewing experiences will be richer for it. Till next month! Happy Reading, and Happy Viewing!
Harper Miller's latest book Complexity is out now, and is the fourth installment in the Kinky Connect Chronicles series. All the stories in this series are stand-alones. Harper loves connecting with readers, so please visit her website, or catch up with her shenanigans by following her on Twitter or Instagram.
Didn't see your faves mentioned? Share your diverse historical recs here or on social media with the hashtag #DiverseHistoricals. We'd love to hear from you! And watch this space next month as we launch our Diverse Romance Reading Challenge!