Does Comic Relief Promote ‘White Saviours’?

The documentarian and Strictly Come Dancing winner Stacey Dooley was criticised this week after publishing pictures of herself on her Instagram filming a video for Comic Relief in Uganda. Dooley looks smiley and glamorous whilst holding a young Ugandan child with his thumb in his mouth, the caption reading ‘OBSESSED’. Despite these images seeming harmless from first glance, Dooley’s Instagram posts caused widespread anger on social media, with many disliking the depiction and idea of a young, beautiful white ‘heroine’ saving a young black ‘victim’.

There is no doubt that Dooley’s intentions were good- she is someone who throughout her documentary career has campaigned for global social justice and the alleviation of child labour and poverty. Yet Labour’s David Lammy criticised Dooley’s pictures for promoting a ‘white saviour’ ideal, and stated that African dependency on the West’s aid is an idea that was born in the colonial era and still somewhat exists today. 

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OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED 💔

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Lammy, like myself and many others, acknowledges that Comic Relief is a charity that has done groundbreaking work to improve living and working conditions for the global poor- it is undoubtedly one of the most important charities in the UK. But this idea of Comic Relief using British celebrities to promote so-called ‘poverty porn’ also needs to be debated. This issue has been brought up before, with many British people, in particular those from ethnic minority backgrounds, being offended by photos and videos of rich white people coming in to ‘save the day’ for poor black Africans.

Ed Sheeran faced similar criticism in 2017 when he visited poor children in Liberia, with the Comic Relief video showing him giving boys cash out of his pocket. Of course Sheeran was doing a good thing, but the way that the charity chose to portray this caused huge controversy as it fulfilled the idea of a white male hero’s actions being the solution to these Liberian children’s suffering. This is something which is reminiscent of the Western psyche in colonial times. 

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Here filming with Comic Relief. ❤️

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This criticism of Comic Relief’s charity videos is not denying the fact that poverty exists on high levels in Africa, and that the West shouldn’t contribute to stopping this. But David Lammy convincingly argued that Comic Relief should re-assess the way it shows poverty in Africa to its UK audience by allowing Africans to have more of a voice in these charity videos, rather than flying rich celebrities out to the continent on expensive planes.

One way of doing this would be to use African filmmakers and celebrities to talk about what life is like in their country, as well as of course interviewing those who are experiencing poverty first-hand. The charity should do more to educate the British public on Africa and its history, telling them how Africa has advanced economically as a nation in recent decades and celebrating its rich cultural diversity whilst underlining how unjust levels of poverty still exist. 

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Stacey and Gracey ✨

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Everyone should donate to Comic Relief this year if they can; the fact that it uses comedy and fun charity events to promote and donate money to a good cause is something which deserves praise. But those at the forefront of the charity should think more about the way that Africa is represented to the British public in the 21stCentury, and allow more African voices to be heard rather than just using the privileged to make the British public feel pity.

Image Credit: Medium