Comic Relief to hire African filmmakers following ‘white saviour’ criticism

Comic Relief has announced it will hire local filmmakers and photographers for appeals in Africa following criticism of “white saviour” celebrities.

Labour MP David Lammy last year accused Strictly Come Dancing star Stacey Dooley of perpetuating “tired and unhelpful stereotypes” after she travelled to the continent for Comic Relief.

“The world does not need any more white saviours,” Mr Lammy, who is of Guyanese descent, said.

MP David Lammy
MP David Lammy (Joe Giddens/PA)

Following the controversy, all African appeal films for Red Nose Day 2021 will be led by local filmmakers for a “more authentic perspective”, Comic Relief said.

The organisation said celebrities who have led films on camera have been “highly successful” and they will “continue to play a big part presenting” Red Nose Day TV shows.

Sir Lenny Henry, Comic Relief honorary life president and co-founder, said: “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.

“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.

Stacey Dooley
Stacey Dooley defended herself from criticism over a Comic Relief appeal (Matt Crossick/PA)

“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 added: “African people don’t want us to tell their stories for them, what they need is more agency, a platform and partnership.”

Comic Relief said it is finalising new “story telling guidelines”, which as well as local filmmakers will include a stronger focus on “grassroots” workers in appeal films.

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

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

Sir Lenny will be joined by June Sarpong, the BBC’s director of creative diversity, for a discussion on changes in the creative industry, including Comic Relief’s new guidelines.

It will be followed by an international panel discussion on ethical filmmaking and will show a first-look at three new African-led films produced through Comic Relief’s Sema Stori Initiative.

To sign up for the event, visit: https://www.comicrelief.com/tackling-racial-inequalities/

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