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Comic Relief founder says it will ditch “white saviours”

This news post is about 3 years old

TV appeals "will be heading in the direction of not using" celebrities abroad

Comic Relief has said it will no longer use “white saviour” celebrities in its fundraising campaigns.

The charity came in for ferocious criticism last year after David Lammy MP questioned the need to send the likes of documentary maker Stacey Dooley to Africa to highlight its work.

He said they are being sent abroad like “white saviours”, prompting much soul-searching in the sector.

Now the charity's co-founder, screenwriter Richard Curtis, has told MPs that TV appeals "will be heading in the direction of not using" celebrities abroad.

He said they would be "very careful to give voices to people" who live there.

Comic Relief and Strictly Come Dancing champ Dooley were criticised after she travelled to Uganda to make an appeal film about the charity's work, and posted pictured of herself with local children on Instagram (below).

Labour MP David Lammy said this supported “tired and unhelpful” stereotypes, displaying “white saviour complex”.

He said: “My problem with British celebrities being flown out by Comic Relief to make these films is that it sends a distorted image of Africa which perpetuates an old idea from the colonial era."

Lammy’s comments open an old debate which has haunted the international aid sector, over wealthy, often white, celebrities being flown to the developing world to front campaigns.

They have been accused of indulging in “poverty porn” – with a film for Comic Relief by Ed Sheeran drawing particularly harsh criticism from an aid watchdog.

Curtis, who wrote hit films including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, said: "We heard the criticism, we were doing stuff to address it, we're accelerating the way that we address it."

Curtis told the House of Commons International Development Committee that this year's Comic Relief had included two films featuring UK celebrities in Africa - Dooley and the group of stars who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

He explained: "We are trying to do everything we can to raise the maximum amount of money for our projects internationally.

"But if it is felt that Comic Relief is so influential in terms of image that you start to send out the wrong image, and that people who live in this country with African backgrounds feel as though they're in some way demeaned or negatively affected by Comic Relief, then we really have to listen to that.

"What I'm searching for year by year is new ways of telling the stories. Traditionally, the sadder the film, the more money it makes, but I'm sure there must be a solution where you show such radiant joy and success that that would encourage you to give more money."

Asked by MPs how Comic Relief would operate in the future, he replied that the charity was "at a very interesting moment" in learning lessons from successful online fundraising campaigns.

He said: "I imagine as we go into this new future, that will not be based on celebrities going abroad. I suspect we will start that new initiative not going that way.

"And then on the TV, I think we have to do what we think is best, and I think it will be heading in the direction of not using [celebrities abroad], and particularly being very careful to give voices to people abroad."

In response, Lammy tweeted: "Looks like Comic Relief are finally ready to listen to hundreds of thousands of my constituents and others who support aid but want to move on from the tired, harmful stereotypes and tropes that surround it and prevent genuine equity and partnership.



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Lok Yue
about 3 years ago
"Tired and unhelpful stereotypes " What a truly dreadful remark and one which makes the point that Lamy cares less about the good comic relief funds do and more about a PC narrative. Does he think people in dire straits in Africa care if a hard working woman like stacy dolly appears on screen if it facilitates aid?