Comic Relief to stop sending celebrities to Africa following 'white saviour' criticism

Barney Davis
·3-min read
Stacey Dooley shared pictures of her trip to Uganda, with one snap showing her posing with a young child: Stacey Dooley/Instagram
Stacey Dooley shared pictures of her trip to Uganda, with one snap showing her posing with a young child: Stacey Dooley/Instagram

Comic Relief has dropped trips to Africa for celebrities like Ed Sheeran and Stacey Dooley following criticism of “white saviour” charity appeals.

For Red Nose Day 2021 the charity will hire local filmmakers and photographers for a “more authentic perspective”.

The organisation has traditionally relied on sending celebrities to visit poverty-stricken nations to make emotional appeals for donations from the British public.

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

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

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A post shared by Stacey Dooley (@sjdooley) on Feb 23, 2019 at 10:15am PST

Announcing the change, Comic Relief 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, welcomed the changes that would give African people more “agency and a platform” to tell their own stories.

“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.

“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.”

The charity also said it will no longer portray the continent using images of starving people or critically ill children.

Sheeran was accused of
Sheeran was accused of

In 2017 Ed Sheeran's video from Liberia for Comic Relief was handed a "Rusty Radiator" award, given to the "most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video" of the year by a Norwegian student-run annual awareness campaign.

The group accused the singer of “poverty tourism” after he was filmed offering to pay for a hotel safe house for a homeless boy after witnessing him being beaten in the street.

Comic Relief said it is finalising new “storytelling 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”.

The charity’s chief executive, Ruth Davison said the old approach had raised £1.4bn over the last 35 years but the change in tone will help avoid donor fatigue at the idea that decades of giving by the British public has failed to improve African nations.

Previews from African filmmakers exploring the impact of mental health issues, climate change and young women escaping forced marriages will be released today.

Additional reporting by PA.

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