THE BLOG
18/07/2018 17:08 BST | Updated 18/07/2018 17:08 BST

Does Reality TV Present A Level Playing Field For Black Women?

Many of us want more black women on TV - but their treatment is all too painful to watch

ITV/ ITV2
Last week Samira Mighty decided to leave the Love Island villa

After almost six weeks of searching for love on ITV’s Love Island, last week we finally saw Samira Mighty bow out of the competition. Her departure was described by many in the media as a “shock exit”, but for thousands who tune in each night, it may not have come as a surprise at all. Many of us knew that the reality show was never going to be the right platform for a black woman to build and sustain a romantic relationship.

Samira decided to walk after the dumping of Frankie Foster, who she was coupled up with. Collectively, our sympathy for the 22-year-old was replaced with impatience as we failed to understand her grief over the dismissal of a guy who appeared only to have settled for her after failing to win the attention of fellow contestant Megan Barton-Hanson. This was until it emerged that the established romance between Frankie and Samira had been cruelly chopped out of the final edits of the show, including a night in the hideaway - an exclusive section of the villa where couples go for some privacy and a chance for more intimacy. To say Samira’s time on our screens had been a car crash would be saying the least.

Samira’s story might be a harsh fact of reality TV, but for the more discerning audience, it is exemplary of the dehumanising of black women by the erasure of their stories and the silencing of their voices. Whilst we have been allowed to emotionally invest ourselves in the plights of Alex George and Laura Anderson who have had an equally hard time in the villa, for some reason, Samira was not afforded that same privilege. We were not allowed to see the fullness of her story, and therefore not given the opportunity to really partake in her experience. Other parts of her Love Island journey also ended up on the cutting room floor such as infighting with fellow islander Georgia Steel, and her close friendship with Dani Dyer.

If there is one truth that Samira’s plight has placed emphasis on, it’s that reality TV does not present a level playing field for black women. Love Island is not in isolation when it comes to the unfair portrayal of women of colour. Last year we saw Joanna Jarjue, from BBC1’s The Apprentice, being described as “argumentative” and “difficult to work with”, despite her being the youngest contestant and being filmed alongside some equally combative characters. In the same year we also witnessed Alexandra Burke on Strictly Come Dancing branded a “diva” who “can’t stop bickering” and repeatedly voted in the bottom two. An article published by the Guardian cited that on the BBC talent show, which sees celebrities avoid elimination by battling it out on the dance floor weekly, being a woman increased the odds of being in the bottom two by 66% and being both black and female by 83%.

It might be all in the name of entertainment, but the figures which lie just beneath the surface of a glitzy production are damning, and sadly all too telling of the realities black British women face. For example, research conducted by the Guardian and Operation Black Vote found that whilst just 3.5% of non-white faces could be found at the top of the UK’s leading 1,000+ organisations, only a quarter of those BAME positions of power were occupied by women. When it comes to dating figures, the most cited data is from OK Cupid’s Race and Attraction survey, which saw black women repeatedly ranking the least preferred by black, Asian and white men.

The current trend of reality TV shows has dealt a tragic blow to the image of black women, but the conundrum here is that whilst many want to see more representation of black women on our TVs, their treatment by producers and the voting public is all too painful to watch. The fact is that until there are more black women sitting on the producers’ panel, things are unlikely to change. However, some authority can be reclaimed in small but impactful ways.

Samira might not have been in control of her own story, but this month’s release of the book Slay In Your Lane, by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, does offer some glimmer of hope. Described as the “black girl’s bible”, the book explores the unique challenges UK black women face from dating, to careers and health and the other facets of life. It features many black British female voices from the fields of entertainment, politics, science and more. In a world where black women are often invisible, it’s a step in the right direction.