By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, offered a sweeping indictment of Britain’s media and the racism they believe has fueled coverage of their relationship in a Netflix documentary series that promises to tell the “full story” of the couple’s estrangement from the royal family.
Relying on interviews with the couple, as well as their friends and experts on race and the media, the first three episodes of “Harry and Meghan” dissect the close relationship between tabloid newspapers and the royal family while discussing the history of racism in the British Empire and how it continues to pervade society.
“In this family sometimes, you know, you’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution,’’ Harry says in the program, which aired Thursday. “There is a huge level of unconscious bias. The thing with unconscious bias is that it is actually no one’s fault. But once it has been pointed out, or identified within yourself, you then need to make it right.”
The media’s treatment of Meghan — and what they felt was a lack of sympathy from royal institutions about the coverage — were at the heart of the couple’s complaints when they walked away from royal life and moved to Southern California almost three years ago. Promoted with two dramatically edited trailers that hinted at a “war against Meghan,” the series “Harry & Meghan” is the couple’s latest effort to tell their story.
The series comes at a crucial moment for the monarchy as King Charles III tries to show that the institution still has a role to play after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, whose personal popularity dampened criticism of the crown during her 70-year reign. Charles is making the case that the House of Windsor can help unite an increasingly diverse nation by using the early days of his reign to meet with many of the ethnic groups and faiths that make up modern Britain.
Harry’s 2018 marriage to the former Meghan Markle, a biracial American actress, was once seen as boosting the royal family’s effort to move into the 21st century, making it more representative of a multicultural nation. But the fairy tale, which began with a star-studded ceremony at Windsor Castle, soon soured amid stories that Meghan was self-centered and bullied her staff.
Netflix released the first three hour-long episodes on Thursday, with three more due Dec. 15. The documentary includes video diaries recorded by Meghan and Harry — apparently on their phones — in March 2020, amid the couple’s acrimonious split from the royal family. It’s “my duty to uncover the exploitation and bribery” that happens in British media, Harry says in one entry.
“No one knows the full truth,” he adds. “We know the full truth.”
The series begins by telling the story of Harry and Meghan’s courtship and the initial enthusiasm that greeted their relationship. But the tone shifts as Harry recounts the intense media scrutiny faced by Meghan, reminding him of the way his mother, Princess Diana, was treated before she died in a car crash while being trailed by photographers.
“To see another woman in my life who I loved go through this feeding frenzy – that’s hard,” Harry says.
“It is basically the hunter versus the prey.”
Harry and Meghan said they initially tried to follow palace advice to remain silent about the press coverage as other members of the royal family said it was a rite of passage they all had to go through. But the couple said they felt compelled to tell their story because there was something different about the way Meghan was treated.
“I said, ‘The difference here is the race element,’” Harry said.
That bias has deep roots in the history of the British empire, which was enriched by the enslavement of Black people and the extraction of wealth from colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, said historian and author David Olusoga in the program. It is only since World War II that large numbers of Black and Asian people moved to Britain, changing the face of the nation.
Those changes are reflected in the British media. While Black people make up about 3.5% of Britain’s population, they account for just 0.2% of the journalists, Olusoga said.
“We have to recognize that this is a white industry…,” he said. “So people who come up with these headlines, they are doing so in a newsroom that’s almost entirely white, and they get to decide whether something has crossed the line of being racist.”
King Charles III was asked if he had watched the documentary as he carried out an engagement on Thursday in London. He did not reply.
Race became a central issue for the monarchy following Harry and Meghan’s interview with American talk show host Oprah Winfrey in March 2021. Meghan alleged that before their first child was born, a member of the royal family commented on how dark the baby’s skin might be.
Prince William, the heir to the throne and Harry’s older brother, defended the royal family after the interview, telling reporters, “We’re very much not a racist family.”
But Buckingham Palace faced renewed allegations of racism only last week when a Black advocate for survivors of domestic abuse said a senior member of the royal household interrogated her about her origins during a reception at the palace. Coverage of the issue filled British media, overshadowing William and his wife Kate’s much-anticipated visit to Boston, which the palace had hoped would highlight their environmental credentials.
Media attention was also diverted by Netflix’s decision to release the first trailer for “Harry & Meghan” in the middle of the trip.
Whatever the series ultimately reveals palace officials hope to deflect the storm by portraying William and Kate as forward-looking young royals who are tackling difficult issues such as climate change and early childhood education, in contrast to Harry and Meghan, who are described by critics as merely celebrities selling their story to the media.
The BBC and the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, picked up on this theme in their coverage of William and Kate’s three-day trip to Boston, where they handed out environmental prizes, met with anti-violence campaigners and went to a basketball game.
“While Prince Harry and Meghan continued to paint themselves as victims, heads in hands, tearing their hair out at the unfairness of it all, the Prince and Princess were simply getting on with the job,” the Telegraph wrote.