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Comic Relief to stop sending celebrities to Africa to put an end to 'White savior' stereotype

The decision comes on the back of Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis's promise to MPs last year that it would give voice to people who live in Africa as opposed to celebrities.

Comic Relief to stop sending celebrities to Africa to put an end to 'White savior' stereotype
Image source: Instagram/sjdooley

Comic Relief will stop sending celebrities to Africa after facing a heavy backlash for promoting the "white saviors" and "poverty porn." The charity has promised to stop using images of starving people and critically-ill children to portray living conditions in the continent. Comic Relief also confirmed it would use footage and images from local film-makers to give a more "authentic perspective" of life in the continent. The charity has a history of sending British celebrities to poor African villages and filming their reactions to the dire living conditions there. Critics often slammed the charity for pushing stereotypes that Africa as a continent was poverty-stricken. Sir Lenny Henry, who co-founded Comic Relief, labeled the decision a 'huge move.' "I think it's about time," said Henry, reported BBC. "And it's not to say that the films that have been made in the past weren't extraordinary and didn't have a huge effect. Sir Lenny Henry said it was for White people to step aside and let Black people narrate their own stories. "But it's time for young Black and brown film-makers to take charge and say, 'I want to tell you my story.'

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Sir Lenny Henry said it was time to stop extracting sympathy with poverty porn. "There are other ways to elicit sympathy, and maybe we'd been pushing on the same button for too long." Comic Relief has announced that it will preview three videos by filmmakers from across the African continent on Wednesday, focusing on issues including mental health, climate change, and forced marriages. The decision also comes on the back of Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis's promise to MPs last year that it would give voice to people who live in Africa as opposed to celebrities.

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The charity faced a severe backlash after media personality Stacey Dooley posted an image holding a young Ugandan boy and captioned it "Obsessed." Labour MP David Lammy slammed the charity for perpetuating "tired and unhelpful stereotypes" through the image and the footage used to elicit sympathy. "The world does not need any more white saviors," said Lammy, adding that the image evoked "a colonial image of a white, beautiful heroine holding a black child, with no agency, no parents in sight."

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The charity was also slammed for pushing similar stereotypes when Ed Sheeran visited Liberia in 2017 for the charity. It looked so bad that the charity was given the "Rusty Radiator" award, given to the "most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video of the year." The five-minute clip showed the singer meet and rescue a child living on the streets of Liberia. “This is a video is about Ed Sheeran. It’s literally poverty tourism,” said the judges of the Radi-Aid awards, reported The Independent. “The video should be less about Ed shouldering the burden alone but rather appealing to the wider world to step in. Massive improvement in the end. But is Ed Sheeran willing to pay for the boy's housing forever? What an irresponsible thing to do, and for this video to glorify that is terrible.” The videos were accused of reinforcing a "feeling of hopelessness and apathy," as opposed to providing hope.

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Comic Relief announced it would frame new "story-telling guidelines" to ensure a more "diverse and inclusive" team worked on the videos. It promised to raise "awareness of wider narratives across the continent" with a focus on grassroots workers. "I'm proud that Comic Relief is making these changes and I am looking forward to seeing the films next year," said Sir Lenny. "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,' said Sir Lenny before adding, 'African people don’t want us to tell their stories for them. What they need is more agency, a platform, and partnership."

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