“White saviour” celebs dropped from aid appeals

Ed sheeran  wide

Last Friday’s films for Sports Relief were the first signs of this change

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27th March 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Comic Relief has said it will drop “white saviour” celebrities in its appeals.

Following criticism from an aid watchdog over films described as “poverty porn”.

The charity – which runs Sports Relief and Red Nose Day – said it would move away from having white celebrities front its films.

Last Friday’s films for Sports Relief were the first signs of this change, as celebrities were replaced by Africans, allowing them to speak for themselves.

The appeals also balanced stories of poverty and need with more optimistic, narratives.

Chief executive Liz Warner told The Guardian: “The films we put into Sports Relief are a step towards that, towards change. People talking in the first person in their own voices, with local heroes and local heroines talking to us about the work they’re doing. You won’t see a celebrity standing in front of people talking about them. You’ll see people talking for themselves.”

One of the appeal films broadcast, about street children in Kampala, Uganda, was be introduced by former footballer Rio Ferdinand – but he did not appear in the film. Instead Elvis, a Ugandan charity worker, and the children explained the issues to the viewer.

Warner admitted it was a risky strategy as celebrities are a sure bet when it comes to bringing in funding. Over its-30 year history, Red Nose Day has raised more than £1 billion for charities it funds.

However, it was announced this week that this year’s Sport Relief raised its lowest total since the event began.

It raised £38 million on the night - £17m less than was raised by Sports Relief in 2016, when it raised £55m on the night.

Last year, an Ed Sheeran-fronted Comic Relief video was named as the worst example of charity “poverty porn”.

The film, Ed Sheeran Meets a Little Boy Who Lives On The Street, was found to display “white saviour” syndrome.

It showed Sheerin on the streets of Liberia, where he offers to pay hotel costs for street children.

Comic Relief won the Rusty Radiator gong in the Radi-Aid awards, an annual contest, organised by the Norwegian Students and Academics International Assistance Fund (Saih),

It exists to challenge aid groups to shift away from stereotypes about people living in poverty.

Sheeran’s video won from a field which included the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Yemen appeal film, which was fronted by Tom Hardy, which contains graphic images of unidentified starving and sick children, and was accused of being “devoid of dignity”.

The other contender was the DEC’s African famine appeal, fronted by Eddie Redmayne, which was, according to jurists, devoid of any political context.

These films were dismissed as featuring “poverty porn and people waiting to be saved”.

Both campaigns were likened to throwbacks to 1980s appeals, such as band Aid, which routinely and lingeringly focussed on the suffering of unnamed people, while Sheeran’s effort was branded “poverty tourism”.