Meghan Markle, Feminist Princess

Prince Harry's engagement to American actress Meghan Markle is a good reason to binge-watch 'Suits,' where Markle exercised influence by empowering the feminine voice

Britain's Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, London, Britain, November 27, 2017.
TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

Even before the world celebrated her newly announced engagement to Britain’s Prince Harry, the actress Meghan Markle had already made it clear that she doesn’t intend to become a classic fairytale princess. A star of the American television series “Suits” since 2011, Markle, who is known for her humanitarian activity, showed up in ripped jeans for her first public event with the prince as a couple.

She’s not British, she’s divorced and she’s three years older than Harry. As the daughter of a white father and a black mother, she will be the first-ever member of the British royal family, by marriage, who is not white. Of the success that came with her role in the legal drama television series, she told the magazine “Elle” last year: “With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility – to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings.”

“Suits” doesn’t enjoy high ratings, but in its seven years has gained about a million and a half loyal fans thanks to its astute interplay between legal cases, romantic sparks and fantasies about power struggles within big American corporations. The series also benefited enormously by being picked up for worldwide distribution by Netflix, gaining it access to a young international audience that cottons to legal drama with a refreshing twist.

For those who missed the series about the fictional law firm, the celebrations of the engagement – and Markle’s leaving the series in order to move to England and undertake the social commitments that go with her new status – offer sufficient reason to plunge into an enjoyable, undemanding marathon.

The plot revolves around Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who has a rare photographic memory. After dropping out of college, he makes ends meet by posing as law school candidates and taking the admission test in their place. Looking to earn big money fast, he agrees to deliver a package of marijuana but discovers that it’s a police sting operation. While escaping he finds himself in a hotel where interviews are being held for graduates of Harvard Law School. Even though he doesn’t have a law degree, Mike persuades Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), the senior lawyer he talks to, that he’s the best candidate for the job. He’s hired, and the two become a winning duo, but the secret of his real identity continues to threaten him.

The series is not free of flaws, and a feeling of recycling pervades the later seasons. Still, “Suits” is energetic, light and generates adequate tension. On top of which, it depicts women who are strong, sharp and elegant, among them Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), the law firm’s cofounder and former managing partner, and Rachel Zane, the character played by Meghan Markle. At the start, Rachel is a paralegal in the prestigious firm. Her aspiration to become a lawyer is thwarted by a phobia that prevents her from taking the law school admissions test. She conceals the fact that her father is a well-regarded lawyer who had no qualms about telling her that he would have preferred a son and who urges her to abandon her legal career. The relationship between Rachel and Mike provides the series’ romantic interest. 

Markle was highly influential in shaping the plotline to reflect her efforts to shatter the glass ceiling and spur women’s empowerment. She related, for example, that she demanded that the makers of the series avoid gender discrimination in writing her character. “Every script seemed to begin with Rachel entering wearing a towel, and I said no, I’m not doing it anymore,” she told the British newspaper Independent. 

The ability to make that kind of demand is related to recognition of self-worth, she says, but also has to do with men who use the power they hold to empower women. “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist,” she said in an address to a United Nations conference for women’s advancement two years ago. “It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. May we empower each other to carry out such vision.” 

In the wake of her engagement, Markle has been asked time and again how she’s coping with the British tabloids’ obsessive harping on her biracial origins. In fact, she has often emphasized the power of television and of her series in particular to diversify ethnic representation. She told AOL in 2016, “Jessica Pearson [played by the African-American actress Gina Torres] could have just been cast as a white man, and Rachel [played by Markle] could have been cast as a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl. [USA Network] really embraced changing the landscape of television in that way.” 

As for leaving the series after completing the filming of the seventh season and moving to England, she said, in the first joint interview  that she and Prince Harry gave after the engagement announcement, “Once we hit the 100-episode marker, I thought, ‘You know what? I have ticked this box and I feel very proud of the work I have done there.’”