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UK News

Christian Aid backs Comic Relief's decision to stop sending celebs to Africa amid 'white saviour' controversy

by Tola Mbakwe

Christian Aid has commended Comic Relief for its "brave" decision to stop sending celebrities to Africa and other developing countries for fundraising campaigns. 

On Wednesday, Comic Relief announced it will hire local filmmakers and photographers for appeals in Africa following criticism of "white saviour" celebrities.

Last year, Labour MP David Lammy accused Strictly Come Dancing star Stacey Dooley of perpetuating "tired and unhelpful stereotypes" after she travelled to the continent for Comic Relief.

"The world does not need any more white saviours," Mr Lammy, who is of Guyanese descent, said.

Chine McDonald, head of community fundraising for Christian Aid, told Premier while she understands why charities use celebrities for appeals, it can become problematic. 

"The problem is when those people are white and rich, and they are putting forward a very monochrome perspective of what Africa is, or what developing countries are like. It's that idea that white people can come and fix things and that we see things through a white saviour perspective where it's a bit troubling."

From now on African appeal films for Red Nose Day 2021 will be led by local filmmakers for a "more authentic perspective", Comic Relief said.

The organisation said celebrities who have led films on camera have been "highly successful" and they will "continue to play a big part presenting" Red Nose Day TV shows.

McDonald said Christian Aid doesn't use celebrities for video fundraising appeals and is very careful about what images they show. 

"We try to tell stories that are dignified," she said. "Our imagery is always putting forward this idea of dignity and drawing on that idea of the injustice of it all and the fuller picture of why it is that someone lives in extreme poverty. 

"It's because there are all these complex global systems, economic systems that are broken. So [it's about] how can we make people feel something which is this sense of rage and injustice about that problem and then campaign, act, give and pray in order to play their part in fixing those problems?"

Comic Relief said it is finalising new "story telling guidelines", which will include a stronger focus on "grassroots" workers in appeal films.

The charity also said it will work with media organisations across Africa to raise "awareness of wider narratives across the continent" and promises to make "every aspect" of production "more diverse and inclusive."

In light of Comic Relief's decision, McDonald encouraged churches and Christian charities to rethink how they do missions. 

"I have often found it problematic…young, white middle class people going out to fix problems, or build one house, or one school in a village somewhere. And I can understand why those things are valuable because they give a bigger perspective or a different perspective on what the world is. But the problem is when we feel like we've done our part as white people or as Westerners in fixing something, that is hugely complex. 

"The ideal picture for me is of seeing images of people who are living in vulnerable communities, marginalised communities around the world, and seeing those people not as people that we take pity on, but we feel a sense of injustice, because in them we see ourselves. 

"So drawing on that sense of empathy, and the idea of all of us being bound up in this human story. So changing some of those narratives, changing some of the words that we use, changing the pictures and the tears, the flies around people's faces and presenting more dignified images of humanity."

Listen to Premier's interview with Chine McDonald here: 

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