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Comic Relief to stop sending celebrities to Africa after ‘white saviour’ criticism

Written by on 29 October 2020

Comic Relief will stop sending celebrities to film appeals in Africa after criticism of “white saviour” stereotypes. 

It comes after TV presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner Stacey Dooley travelled to the continent for the charity last year, prompting accusations that she was perpetuating “tired and unhelpful stereotypes”.

Labour MP David Lammy, who is of Guyanese descent, said at the time: “The world does not need any more white saviours.”

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The TV presenter’s trip was criticised by Labour MP David Lammy (below)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Labour MP David Lammy speaks at the launch of the Labour Race and Faith Manifesto at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on November 26, 2019 in London, England. Mr Corbyn is campaigning ahead of the United Kingdom's December 12 general election. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

For decades, the anti-poverty charity’s approach to fundraising has included sending often celebrities – often white – to deprived areas and filming their reaction.

Now the organisation says it will instead hire local filmmakers and photographers to create promotional videos for a “more authentic perspective”.

The organisation has confirmed celebrities will continue to present Red Nose Day TV shows, but that new “storytelling guidelines” will include a sharper focus on “grassroots” workers in appeal films.

It has also said it will work with media organisations across Africa to raise “awareness of wider narratives across the continent” and pledged to make “every aspect” of production more inclusive.

More from Africa

Sir Lenny Henry, who co-founded Comic Relief and is its honorary life president, said people in Africa “don’t want us to tell their stories for them”.

“A lot has changed over Comic Relief’s 35 years, and so the way we raise money and talk about the issues we are here to tackle, and the people we are here to support, must change as well,” he said.

“I think on certain issues right now, like representation, amplifying black voices and diversity, there’s a real sense of reflection and looking inwards, and asking ourselves what can we do to learn and grow too. I’m proud that Comic Relief is making these changes and I am looking forward to seeing the films next year.”

Gary Barlow poses with local children in Uganda
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Gary Barlow poses with local children in Uganda
Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh poses with a family
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Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh poses with a family

Sir Lenny added: “Investing in local talent across Africa to tell stories from their communities is great and a much-needed step forward but as always there is more that can be done.

“The energy and passion for change and new perspectives is there in bucket loads.”

Sir Lenny Henry says he is 'proud' the organisation is making changes
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Sir Lenny Henry says he is ‘proud’ the organisation is making changes

Comic Relief has invested nearly £6m in black-led and minority-led organisations across the UK.

Writing on Twitter after Dooley shared pictures of her trip in 2019, Mr Lammy said his comments were not personal but that he had a problem with “British celebrities” being flown out to make films which send “a distorted image” of Africa and perpetuate “an old idea from the colonial era”.