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Comic Relief Moves Away From The ‘White Saviour’ Trope

Mon Nov 02 2020

It’s time for young black and brown filmmakers to take charge – Sir Lenny Henry

Just in time for it’s 2021 Red Nose Day, Comic Relief have announced, via a statement by their honourary president Sir Lenny Henry, that moving forwards they’ll be avoiding the controversial ‘white saviour’ trope that’s been one of the hallmarks of their fundraising since their inception.

They’ll be modernising their international appeal films by scrapping white saviourism as well as images of overseas poverty in favour of local stories by local people that instead empower and preserve the agency of the people appearing in the appeals.

All of their appeal films for Red Nose Day 2021 (and going forward after that) would instead be led by local filmmakers.


This shift forms part of Comic Relief’s commitment to appeal to “modern, astute audiences” via their storytelling in enable to empower local communities and their leaders to tell and frame their own stories.


When the announcement was made, former trustee and honourary president Lenny Henry said Comic Relief had been going through an evolutionary process in terms of the type of content it wanted to showcase:

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In the past, when I went to film in places in Africa, like Burkina Faso, I would usually be the only black person on the team. Everyone else was white. The most important thing we came to ask was why we were not giving local people agency, and the platform to say: ‘Here is my representation and my platform, this is my story – let me tell it. We have seen a lot of white saviours in the past. An indigenous local filmmaker telling their own stories has just as much agency, power and resonance. It is time for young black and brown filmmakers to take charge and say: ‘This is my story.’

Lenny Henry

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Fundraising that focuses on the emotional state of the donor rather than the subject has come under criticism in recent years for perpetuating ‘poverty-porn’ and reinforcing the ‘white saviour’ trope.

Experts have been warning that the trend “reinforces systemic inequality” and “normalises traumatic power imbalance[s]” that portray the subjects of the appeal as victims without agency. 


Comic Relief did comment to add that it’s work with celebrities and high profile supporters had helped to raise over £1.4bn but that the ‘formula’ had led to valid criticisms and sector wide debate. 

2019 saw some of the heaviest criticism around white saviourism with journalist Stacey Dooley pictured holding a black child for her Instagram account whilst visiting Comic Relief projects in Uganda.

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We know times are changing rapidly now and we need to modernise our approaches internationally to give local communities the opportunity to lead their stories. We have listened to communities, our peers, critics and supporters, and I’m proud to be leading the charity at this exciting time as we develop our approaches and shift the power. I hope audiences will see that by investing in wider creative partnership across Africa our films will be more authentic and engaging than ever.

Ruth Davison – Comic Relief, Chief Executive

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As part of the above, Comic Relief announced it would be partnering with media organisations across Africa on a range of additional creative projects to raise awareness of the wider narratives around the continent. 

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Mon Nov 02 2020

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