What does ‘watershed moment’ mean? Why are people saying it about Harry and Meghan’s new Netflix documentary

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s upcoming Netflix documentary, Harry & Meghan, has been called a ‘watershed moment’ in the history of the royal family

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will release a new six-part documentary on Netflix about Meghan’s treatment by the royal family and the couple’s decision to step back from royal life. The series is expected to cause image problems for the royal family at home and abroad.

With recent royal scandals such as Ngozi Fulani being relentlessly quizzed about where she is from by Baroness Hussey, and Prince Andrew’s removal from royal duties over his association with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and a separate allegation of sexual assault, this documentary could be another nail in the royal coffin.

The upcoming docuseries has been called a watershed moment by one royal commentator and it is likely to have ramifications for those on both sides of the royal rift. But what does watershed moment mean, and why could the Harry and Meghan documentary be one?

What does watershed moment mean?

Harry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary could be a watershed momentHarry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary could be a watershed moment
Harry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary could be a watershed moment

A watershed moment is an event that is a major turning point in history. Such moments may cause a sudden shift in the course of events, or in how a person or group is perceived. It comes from the literal meaning of a watershed as an area of land which divides the flow of two rivers.

A recent example of a watershed moment is the creation of the first successful Covid-19 vaccine as this suddenly changed the course of the pandemic. In television, the watershed is the time after which material not suitable for children, such as swearing, can be broadcast.

Why is Harry and Meghans’s Netflix documentary being called a watershed moment?

Sean Mandell, an entertainment and royal reporter, said: "This documentary is going to be a real watershed moment for Harry and Meghan because it’s going to be a question of whether this moves the needle in the US one way or the other in terms of what people think.

"Like in the UK, there are those who are part of the Sussex squad, who will go to the mattresses for them. But there are a minority who do not look on them favourably and will look at this as an ‘Aha!’ moment to latch on to what they are saying and say they are being misleading."

The couple’s docuseries is expected to cause a lot of drama when it lands on Netflix this week. Even the trailers have been talking points on news channels across the country.

On 2 December, Piers Morgan, a long-time critic of the Sussex’s, tweeted: “Very clear now that Prince Harry & Meghan Markle are intent on destroying the Royal Family. You can agree with them or think, as I do, that they’re repulsive narcissistic hypocrites, but their agenda is now indisputable & constitutes an existential threat to the British Monarchy.”

The documentary will explore Meghan Markle’s treatment by the press and the royal familyThe documentary will explore Meghan Markle’s treatment by the press and the royal family
The documentary will explore Meghan Markle’s treatment by the press and the royal family

The British Royal Family is very popular in America, despite the fact that the country fought a war to free itself from the rule of King George III. Over the last year, several royal experts suggested that Meghan, who was born in Los Angeles, and Prince Harry had lost popularity in the states as they continued to criticise The Firm.

However, a poll taken after Meghan started her Archetypes podcast found that a majority of respondents felt more favourably towards her.

Harry and Meghan married in 2018, but in 2020 they decided to step back from royal engagements and moved to America with their children, Archie and Lilibet. It is still not clear how most Americans view Harry and Meghan - their Netflix documentary is being described as a watershed moment because it is likely to dramatically affect how the couple are perceived.

The content of the documentary has been revealed, but it is expected to contain revelations about the royal family and their treatment of Meghan that will show the institution in a negative light. If viewers sympathise with Meghan and Harry then the documentary will improve their standing and potentially increase hostility to the royal family which has weathered several PR disasters recently.

However, if after the documentary is released audiences feel that the couple were being insincere, or that they have used the platform to raise their own platform by throwing mud at the royals, the documentary could weaken support for Meghan and Harry and cement royalist feeling in the US and the UK.

When is Harry & Meghan on Netflix?

The six-part docuseries will be released on Netflix in two halves. The first three episodes will land on the streaming platform on Thursday 8 December, with the final three episodes arriving on Thursday 15 December. Episodes will land on Netflix in the US and Canada on the same day as in the UK.