Comic Relief will stop sending celebrities abroad in the wake of its ‘white saviour’racism row, the charity’s founder Richard Curtis has told MPs.
Stacey Dooley was criticised after posting pictures on Instagram with Ugandan children Credit: Comic Relief
The organisation came under fire earlier this year after Labour MP David Lammy said it was “perpetuating tired and unhelpful stereotypes” by using “white saviours” to raise awareness of the poverty facing some Africans.
After the comments were made, the show suffered an £8m fall in donations and lost some 600,000 viewers compared to 2017.
Now, the film director and humanitarian says that he imagines that the future of the fundraising efforts “will not be based on celebrities going abroad.”
Taking questions from the International Development Select Committee, Mr Curtis said that Comic Relief didn’t act “robustly” to the criticism because it was just focused on raising money.
He added that “if people who live in this country with African backgrounds feel as though they’re sort of in some way demeaned or negatively affected by Comic Relief, then we really have to listen to that.”
The row was sparked in February after BBC presenter Stacey Dooley posted a picture on Instagram with a young Ugandan child, along with the caption “OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED” and a picture of a broken heart.
She was in the country on behalf of Comic Relief.
Mr Lammy, MP for Tottenham tweeted: “The world does not need any more white saviours. As I’ve said before, this just perpetuates tired and unhelpful stereotypes. Let’s instead promote voices from across the continent of Africa and have serious debate.”
He added: “The history of colonialism in Africa means race is important. Stacey’s Instagram posts continue a very long established trope of white female heroine with orphan black child with little or no agency or parents in sight. Comic relief do this because it makes people give money.”
In the wake of the controversy, the charity raised £63.5m, compared with £71.3m in 2017.
The BBC said that an average of 5.6 million people watched the telethon – 600,000 fewer than in the year before.
In Westminster today, Mr Curtis, who directed Love Actually and was a screenwriter on Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, admitted that he understood the criticisms and was looking to address the problems that had been raised.
“It is a really complicated issue because we feel this desperate passionate need to raise as much money as we can, but if we’re doing harm as well, that won’t do,” he said.
When asked directly about how Comic Relief will operate going forwards, Mr Curtis told MPs: “I think we are at a very interesting moment in terms of raising money online and raising money as a result of the television programme. We’re on a big journey to work out how a lot of the most successful fundraising initiatives at the moment don’t have television exposure. We’re not strong on that yet.
“I imagine as we go into this new future, that will not be based on celebrities going abroad. I suspect we will start the new initiative not going that way. On TV, I think it will be heading in the direction of not using, and particularly being very careful to give voices to people abroad.”
Other celebrities who have visited Africa on behalf of Comic Relief include musician Ed Sheeran, who offered to pay hotel costs for street children in Liberia, and David Baddiel, who led a Comic Relief convoy through east Africa to deliver supplies to help charity projects.