Comic Relief Ditches 'White Saviour' Celebrities From Appeals

A clip featuring Ed Sheeran won an award for 'most offensive' charity video.
'It's more about Ed Sheeran than the situation in Liberia'
'It's more about Ed Sheeran than the situation in Liberia'
Comic Relief

Campaigners have welcomed Comic Relief’s decision to move away from using white celebrities to front their film appeals in impoverished places, after one was branded “poverty tourism”.

The charity, which runs the Red Nose Day and Sports Relief appeals, will instead be broadcasting new videos for Friday evening’s Sport Relief telethon, which feature local charity workers.

The organisation came under sharp criticism for one Red Nose Day 2017 video featuring Ed Sheeran, in which he offers to pay to house street children in Liberia.

The video won the award for “most offensive” charity video at the Radi-Aid Awards, a satirical accolade designed to highlight the “two-dimensional depiction” of the developing world.

In tonight’s Sports Relief broadcast, Rio Ferdinand will introduce a film about street children in Kampala, but he will not appear in it himself.

Instead, Elvis, a Ugandan charity worker will talk about the reality of children without homes.

Another video about malaria in Sierra Leone will be fronted by a local man who has worked to combat the disease.

“You won’t see a celebrity standing in front of people talking about them. You’ll see people talking for themselves,” Comic Relief chief executive Liz Warner told The Guardian.

Labour MP David Lammy, who made a short film for the BBC criticising Comic Relief last year, said the change “represents a step in the right direction and some progress”.

“I hope that the films they make will respect and empower African people and amplify their voices instead of patronising them,” he told HuffPost in a statement.

“Comic Relief should be establishing an image of African people as equals to be respected not victims to be pitied, with their stories and perspectives coming directly from the African people instead of being communicated by celebrities acting as tour guides.”

Beathe Øgård, president of the Norwegian Students And Academics International Assistance Fund, which hands out the Radi-Aid awards, praised Comic Relief.

In five years of presenting the awards, no one had responded to receiving one before, she said.

She added the Ed Sheeran video was “more about Ed Sheeran than the situation in Liberia” and such videos simply played on stereotypes about Africa.

“Celebrities are often shown as a white saviour, there to save everyone from poverty, not highlighting any of the underlying issues but portraying it more as a quick fix,” she told HuffPost.

“This reinforces the belief that recipients of aid as passive and not being able to be active human beings. They’re not shown with dignity or respect... [They are] part of the widening the gap between us and them.”

She added: “I hope that Comic Relief can also inspire other organisations in the field and show that using celebrities as spokespersons is out of date.”

Celebrities will front videos about events in the UK. One of them will feature Zoe Ball cycling from Blackpool to Brighton, visiting mental health charities to highlight the issue of male suicide.


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