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Watching ‘The Crown’ and ‘Harry & Meghan’ at the Same Time Is Pretty Surreal

Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, wearing a black blazer during her Panorama interview.

When I was in high school, I saw a bizarre video on the news: Princess Diana was walking through an airport, holding a tennis racket up against her face as she was mobbed by photographers. I didn’t know much about the British royal family and I knew even less about how the paparazzi operate, but I remember being stunned by the ghoulishness of it. Didn’t these people have any decency? Where was their self-respect? Why couldn’t they leave her alone? When Diana later died while fleeing photographers, the tennis racket video felt like an alarm bell that everyone had chosen to ignore.

In the Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tell the story of how the royal family’s collusion with British tabloids essentially drove the couple of out the UK. Tyler Perry, who let them stay at his home when they moved to Los Angeles, mentions that very video in an interview. “I realized that, after the marriage ended,” Perry says as the footage plays in episode 6, “[Diana] was thrown to the wolves.”

Harry has said multiple times over the years that watching the press hound his wife has felt like a repeat of what happened to his mother, so it’s no coincidence that Netflix chose to release Harry & Meghan directly on the heels of season 5 of The Crown. The latest season highlights the increasingly sinister presence of the paparazzi in Diana’s life after her divorce from Charles, and while it doesn’t recreate the tennis racket incident, it does depict others. In one scene, Diana tries to eat dinner in a restaurant with photographers crowding the windows outside, and in another, her car speeds away from photographers in a frightening bit of foreshadowing.

I fell behind on The Crown after it came out last month, but I binged Harry & Meghan, so I ended up watching both series at the same time. It’s tricky to compare Diana and Meghan’s experiences because Meghan has suffered the added danger of racist death threats and trolling campaigns on social media, but the parallels are so obvious that they feel like something out of a multi-generational novel. Seeing both stories unfold at the same time is surreal—not just because the two princesses went through the same thing, but because no one seems to have learned anything from either of them.

Take, for instance, Diana’s infamous Panorama interview, in which she talked about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the royal family. Diana was deceived into giving the interview, but she still told her truth—and she was punished for it by a family that, like any abuser, wanted their victim to keep the abuse private. In The Crown, Elizabeth Debicki recreates the interview; in Harry & Meghan, we see the actual footage. You can trace a direct line from the Panorama interview to Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which Meghan describes the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of her in-laws. In the 26 years between the interviews, so many individuals and institutions could have chosen to behave better, but none of them did—and it looks like none of them will.

Of course, I realize that the two series are having the exact effect that Netflix intended. One piques your interest in the other, and they feed off of each other. That doesn’t change the fact that both Diana and Meghan were, as Perry put it, thrown to the wolves. Again, Diana didn’t deal with racism or coordinated social media attacks, but both women were treated as objects for consumption by the royal family, the press, and ordinary people around the world.

Rewatching the tennis racket footage in the documentary, I realized that the incident was even worse than I remembered. It ends with with Diana and her team stepping into an elevator. A photographer leaps into the elevator car after them, only to be physically shoved out by one of Diana’s staff members. The photographer reminded me of my dogs going wild over a piece of meat dropped on the floor—or a wolf, crazed with hunger, desperately lunging for its prey.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.