Comic Relief scraps celebrity Africa trips after ‘white saviour’ criticism

Ed Sheeran presents a Comic Relief film (BBC)
Ed Sheeran presents a Comic Relief film (BBC)

Comic Relief has said it will stop sending celebrities to make promotional films in African countries, after the practise was accused of reinforcing the “white saviour” trope.

Celebrities such as Ed Sheeran and Stacey Dooley have been criticised in the past over Comic Relief-organised trips that were deemed “poverty porn”.

The anti-poverty charity also said it would no longer portray the continent with images of starving children or those who are critically ill.

Instead, its fundraising appeals will be produced by local filmmakers with a “more authentic perspective”.

Sir Lenny Henry, who co-founded Comic Relief in 1985, welcomed the new move.

“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.

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

Last year, Labour MP David Lammy criticised photos of presenter Stacey Dooley holding a young Ugandan boy while on a Comic Relief trip.

Lammy accused the BBC presenter of perpetuating “tired and unhelpful stereotypes”, and said the world did not need any more “white saviours”.

He later wrote that the charity telethons, which are broadcast by the BBC, had convinced people in Britain that Africa was “one homogenous blob of pain, suffering and starvation”, as a opposed to a continent of vastly diverse cultures, nations and people.

The charity’s chief executive, Ruth Davison, said her organisation had listened to opponents of its traditional approach to fundraising.

“Times have changed, audiences has changed, Africa has changed,” she told The Guardian. “There is a formula for how fundraising has been done but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

She added: “What prompts people to give is an emotional connection – that doesn’t have to be pity. It can be joy, it can be anger, it can be a sense of positivity and hope.”

The next Red Nose Day event is scheduled to be held in March 2021.

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