ENTERTAINMENT
06/03/2021 06:00 GMT | Updated 06/03/2021 06:38 GMT

No Filter: Inside The Black Online Talk Shows That Have Created A Safe Space During Covid

New platforms have sprung up, giving Black audiences access to the type of content that is being omitted from the mainstream.

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#NoJoke. Undiluted, uncompromised real talk

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen an increase in Black online talk shows led by prominent figures within entertainment, media and business. 

In addition to amplifying perspectives from within minority ethnic communities for all audiences to enjoy, these platforms have helped to create digital safe spaces for people of colour.

This has been particularly poignant as the coronavirus outbreak and lockdowns have disproportionately impacted the lives of non-white groups – from an increased likelihood of contracting the illness to being twice as likely to face unemployment.   

Eddie Nestor, who has presented a drive-time show on BBC Radio London for over ten years, launched his own online talk-show, #NoJoke, in June 2020 – shortly after the first lockdown was rolled out. 

Presented alongside his wife Lisa ‘Boss Lady’ Nestor and comedian Curtis Walker, the show typically broadcasts via Youtube, Facebook and Instagram Live every Sunday afternoon and just concluded its second series. 

Nestor, 56, had been talking about doing a podcast for about ten years and being at home a lot more, along with the rest of the nation, presented an ideal opportunity to finally bring the idea to fruition. 

It’s truly a collaborative effort and the team mainly consists of young producers, the broadcaster explained.

“Right now we have Fiona who we call the “media mafia”; she logs, posts, assesses and scrutinises. Steph – also known as Sushi – answers her phone to me at odd times with odd requests for e-flyers and clips of the show.

“Then there’s Naiya, who is pretending to study at university, and makes up the weekly opening titles and Sharon, who sorts out all promotion and finance; Curtis Walker who is just trying to eat and Boss Lady Lisa who is trying to stop me from eating.”

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Nestor, who’s also an acclaimed actor and comedian who starred in iconic Black series The Real McCoy, added: ″The difference with this show is I am the real me and the show tells stories from an unapologetically Black perspective. 

“It is clear that the way people seek information or entertainment has changed. The pandemic has just sped the process up. Young people have long since given up the terrestrial channels.”

Through the rise in online Black talk-shows like #NoJoke, underserved audiences are accessing the type of content that is being omitted from television and Black creatives are by-passing the middleman. Nestor attests to this.

“The significance of the increase in Black-led online talk shows during the pandemic is that they are organic, born from a situation outside of our control,” he said.

“We have found a way to bypass the middleman and communicate with the people – with no edit and no filter. The “gatekeeper” is there to interpret what they think middle England wants. The number of times I’ve had that as the reason given for my pitch not going forward...”.

#NoJoke will return in the coming weeks following a successful crowdfund campaign for more episodes. “The funny thing is, many of our donations came from white people, who also appreciate a different perspective,” Nestor said.

Sherry Dixon, former editor of Pride Magazine – one of the UK’s longest running Black lifestyle magazines, launched her online chat-show Lets Talk at the end of April 2020. The make-up guru had just returned to the UK from Guyana, where she was born and spends a lot of time.

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“People in England seemed miserable at the time and shortly after when I got back, the UK went into lockdown. I was asking a lot of questions on my social media pages and many were engaged in discussing and debating the topics I posed,” she told HuffPost UK.

“I realised that people wanted to talk and have conversations, not just about Covid or lockdown, but about life issues. I knew many professionals in various fields, many of whom I have interviewed [over the years], so I invited them on each week to discuss and dispel myths especially in the areas of relationships and health.”

The aim of Let’s Talk is to motivate and educate audiences about matters that are not usually discussed on mainstream platforms, Dixon said. 

“I want this current generation to be educated about issues where our parents did not feel at east to talk about – such as menopause and relationship dilemmas, making of wills and fibroids. I don’t want the ‘hide it under the table’ mentality any more,” the award-winning motivational speaker added.

“Men cry too – and men and mental health has been one of my most successful shows because I brought the subject to the people. We heard the pain of grown men who were suffering and who are now doing workshops to help others. We discuss issues of race hate and how it is affecting young men and women. There is no area that cannot be discussed.”

What’s more, Dixon is full of optimism for the upsurge in Black-led online discussions – many of which she actually watches herself.

“All of these shows are great and educational and I find them all interesting because some things I did not know,” she says.

“We are learning more and the texts and messages sent to me after my shows make me want to give my time, for free, to help another person be better. I will keep sending the elevator back down.”

“We literally decided to create Black Woman’s Hour three weeks ago after seeing racist white women constantly platformed and Black women constantly policed in mainstream spaces,” Ava Vidal, creator of new programme Black Woman’s Hour (BWH), told HuffPost UK.

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“We were absolutely intentional about creating a safe space for Black people through BWH. We have done this by respecting all of our guests and potential guests, whatever their point of view is. We had John Barnes on the second episode and we were pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

“We have seen John a lot on our screens over the past couple of years but we only ever get soundbites from him. We also make a point of not making derogatory comments about any of our guests after they have been on the show. We are not shy about making our feelings known that this is done in a very constructive way.”

Vidal, who’s a lauded comedian, presents the show alongside Ayisha Vigneswaren. She said there are numerous benefits to staging shows from the comfort of home – not least because most people are available to be interviewed because they are also indoors. But there are hurdles too.

“The most challenging thing is there is so much going on with homeschooling,” Vidal explains. “We are both mothers with primary school age children and so it’s hard. Aside from that, for me there is the stress of being in an industry that is going tits up. We are seeing loads of live gigs and festivals just cancelled.”

The first show was broadcast on the 23 January 2021.

“We don’t ambush our guests,” Vidal says. “We create a completely comfortable environment and we have challenging but respectful conversations. Respect is the most important value that the show has. 

“The significance of these platforms is that mainstream media has veered more and more to the right over the past five and six years. You wouldn’t be able to hear these voices by turning on the TV or radio.”

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In April 2020, businessman and activist Paul Lawrence launched an online talk show called People Talk, which explored topics from relationships and entrepreneurship to sexual abuse and current affairs – all from a Black perspective.

He used the platform to challenge disinformation around Covid-19 and host important conversation about the pandemic’s impact on ethnic minority communities.

The show attracted hundreds of listeners each week during its Zoom, Youtube and Facebook broadcasts. 

In December 2020, communities across the UK were shocked to learn of the Lawrence’s sudden death.

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Keysha Davis

Lockdown has also birthed a new appreciation for digital one-off special pogrammes from figures across the entertainment industry. 

One example of this is Verzuz – an American webcast series created by US music producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, which typically sees two popular, Black artists showcase the best of their musical catalogue in a battle format.

As Covid has naturally led to the decline of live events, creatives around the world have found that having events indoors is the most effective and safest way to stay connected with fans.

Angie Le Mar, widely hailed as the UK’s first lady of Black comedy, hosted her very own An Audience With event just before Christmas, which treated Zoom attendees to a night of laughter, special guests and funny stories.

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Angie Le Mar

“Before lockdown I had done many live shows, evenings with an audience with Angie. With lockdown, once I worked out how to shift the new way of working, it was all go,” Le Mar told HuffPost UK.

“It felt amazing – like a continuation of my live work. The audience hasn’t changed, they are just seated somewhere else, and this was really encouraging, knowing that the audience are just waiting for you to deliver the goods. My confidence was boosted. There is more to come.”

She continues: “The biggest challenge was not having audience participation, making an audience laugh without hearing the laughter is like, pretending to eat, wondering why would you do that. But it was such a fantastic thing to pull off.”

The arrival of more Black shows is deeply welcomed, as far as Le Mar is concerned.

“For years, we sat in meetings [with television executives], saying we need this, we need that, now, we are saying, ‘let us show you’. We don’t want to Blacksplain anymore.

“I have been in the entertainment business for over three decades. I have tried to explain my Blackness, I have been in the rushed together diversity meetings, I have been in many debates about how we can move forward as a multi-culture society, I have been at the so-called table, only to find out it is pure lip service.

“George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement showed Black people that TV commissioners did understand the importance of diversity.

“I saw Black History Month where Black programming went through the roof.  So, not having diverse content throughout the year is a choice. That’s why we say we are tired; we will just make it another way.”

Alistair Berg

Data released by the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) in October revealed the stark ethnic disparity in the UK television industry.

People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups are still underrepresented – and there’s particular concerns about representation in decision making roles.

Just 1.6% of writers working in UK TV identify as Black and only 2.4% of Production Executives, 4.4% of Series Producers, 8.3% of Heads of Production and 9.3% Production Managers are non-white.

The data is based on 30,000 survey responses from workers in the UK television industry, making it one of the most comprehensive surveys of diversity in any British industry.

It also highlighted a serious shortfall in representation in background “craft” roles. Fewer than 5% of roles in Costume and Wardrobe, Hair and Make-Up and Set Design are filled by those from a BAME group, and fewer than 10% of programme contributions in Sound and Post Production. 

Deborah Williams, chief executive of the Creative Diversity Network, says there’s still a long way to go.

“In spite of advances, it’s clear from the Diamond data that the UK TV industry has a long way to go before it is genuinely representative of its viewers,” she says. “And particularly in the off-screen and senior working opportunities it offers to people from different ethnic backgrounds. 

“While we applaud the efforts broadcasters and producers have made to improve on-screen representation, the industry must match this by taking meaningful and sustainable action to increase off-screen diversity.”  

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Clubhouse is a social networking app based on audio-chat – think ‘extended voice notes’ – where users can listen in to conversations, interviews and discussions, and be invited to participate At the moment, it’s invite-only and solely available on Apple phones. 

The platform, worth over $100m (£73m), was launched by tech entrepreneurs Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth in March 2020 but soared in popularity in the UK at the end of last year.

Lately, a number of Black public figures, influencers and thinkers have been using Clubhouse to have important discussions about the topic of the day and create opportunities for individuals to nurture a sense of togetherness during these isolating times.

This includes collectives such as the #ThreeOh club and 9AM in London.

Despite its boom in popularity, Clubhouse has a number of security issues relating to how users’ data is shared. Though the app is in beta stage and currently under development, this has raised concern among privacy advocates

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(L-R) Nikki Onafuye and Luela Hassan.

Journalists Luela Hassan and Nikki Onafuye, both 25 years old, host The Journo Room every other Tuesday at 6.30pm on the app.

It is a space for journalists to congregate, elevate, advise and learn from one another. Moreover, it is a safe space for Black journalists to be themselves and share their experiences in the industry. 

Black journalists account for just 0.2% of working UK journalists, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

“Originally we did it as a safe space for journalists. On doing our first room, we realised nope, this needs to be a safe space for Black journalists. By the end of our first room it was apparent to us that Black women journalists are our target audience and we want this room to be for them, by them,” Onafuye, founder of entertainment platform The Nikki Diaries, told HuffPost UK.

“Hosting the rooms centred around Black women journalists’ experience in the industry allowed us to hone in on our topics and how we can create this room to be a humble and safe environment for them to share. This is our aim.”