The black women of British reality TV who honestly deserved better
We’re not prizes to parade around as your champions of diversity
When black women go onto a reality TV show, people tend to have a field day picking apart their personalities and ripping them to shreds instead of celebrating them. Every year, black contestants on Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor, and Love Island come up against shocking racial bias, whether it’s how the public votes, how scenes are edited, or how they’re treated by fellow contestants.
Many black women are faced with media scrutiny as being a ‘diva’ on set or ‘aggressive’ when showing their emotions. Recently, X Factor alumna Misha B lifted the lid on the racial undertones of the bullying accusations that ruined her chances in the competition and she’s not the only one. With many reality stars now speaking out, we put together a list of those who deserved better:
Alexandra Burke, The X Factor 2008 and Strictly Come Dancing 2017
Alexandra Burke was the winner of The X Factor’s fifth series and was celebrated for her rendition of ‘Hallelujah’ which was her winning song. Years later she appeared on another family favourite show, Strictly Come Dancing in 2017, where she was a judge favourite although the same can’t be said for the British public.
Whilst on Strictly, despite receiving the first 10 on the series, Burke was continuously in the bottom two when it came to the public vote and was branded in the media as a ‘diva’ or ‘difficult’. She spent majority of the series defending herself when met with these accusations. This is seen all too often when it comes to black women that show their emotions onscreen, in reality TV shows.
Alexandra Burke has denied there is a race problem on Strictly Come Dancing, despite fans of the show calling the votes a fix and slamming British viewers for racism.
For years, an unconscious voter bias has taken over the show when it comes to Black celebrities on the show. Tameka Epsom, another black celebrity on the show was voted off the show which caused people to take to twitter and branded British voters as “just plain racist”.
An analysis by the Guardian saw that black or minority ethnic contestants are more likely to be in the bottom two by 71 per cent and being a black female increased the odds by 83 per cent.
Samira Mighty, Love Island 2018
Samira Mighty appeared in the fourth season of Love Island as the show’s first black female contestant. Unsurprisingly, she was the last islander to be picked, similar to Marcel and Malin from seasons before. Samira was seen constantly in tears about the lack of interest she received from the male islanders in the villa.
Samira would later draw parallels between her own experience and Yewande’s the following year. Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, she said: “It’s obvious what is happening. She is the only black girl, and has had little interest from the men, who seem to like blonde white girls with big boobs – or any screen time as a result.”
Samira became a victim of anti-blackness whilst in the villa. Every time a new boy entered the villa she wasn’t given a second look most of the time, it became noticeable she was only in the villa so the producers could say look how diverse we are. Hate to break it to you but, positive discrimination has no place in the 21st century.
Yewande Biala, Love Island 2019
Yewande Biala appeared on the fifth series of the show as its only black female contestant in the initial lineup. She was the last girl left in the coupling ceremony and at first ended up with Michael. They soon became friends and she then sparked a romance with Danny who would later dump her for Arabella.
Before Yewande entered the villa she became a fan favourite when we all found out she went to university at 16 and was a scientist. Intelligent and gorgeous? Jealous to say the least. However, when she entered the villa she was notoriously picked last like many black contestants before her.
Whilst on the show, we began to see Yewande less and less and the most we saw her was when her and Danny went bust and she pulled him up on his behaviour. Only showing her when she was annoyed? Interesting editing indeed. This led to many fans of the contestant to start #WhereisYewande.
Former contestant Samira Mighty said that Yewande became another ‘token black girl’ like she was when she appeared on the show.
Melanie Hill, Big Brother 2000
Melanie Hill appeared in the first season of Big Brother 20 years ago, where she says she was portrayed as a ‘shameless hussy’.
When in the show, she had a romance with two of her fellow contestants and when shown her best bits by Emma Willis, there were none of her doing challenges or doing her makeup like other contestants received, but instead when she appeared in her underwear or kissing the other contestants in the Big Brother house.
The hypersexualisation of black women in the media is something seen all too often. Black women are often portrayed as promiscuous off the bat before even delving into their actual personality.
Melanie felt she had experienced a similar prejudice to Alexandra Burke from the media, “It felt like they wanted to reduce me to this stereotype of a overly sexual, aggressive mixed-race woman. And the press had a complete field day with me being this despised ‘black widow’. I was called a preying mantis. It was all so sexually loaded which couldn’t be further my own view of my own identity.”
Fleur East, The X Factor 2014 and I’m a Celeb 2018
Fleur East’s rise to fame was on the 11th series of the X Factor as a solo artist where she was runner up to Ben Haenow, although she also appeared on the show in 2005. She has recently spoken out against the racial prejudice from that initial appearance, where she was told to straighten her hair, because she wouldn’t be able to sell music if she wore her hair naturally, However, she made clear that her hair was the one thing she wasn’t prepared to negotiate with producers when on the show. She told Hello! Magazine: “That, to me, is a representation of me, my colour and my culture, and I believe that should be celebrated.”
Fleur also appeared on the 18th series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here where she revealed she was repeatedly asked about braiding her hair before she entered the jungle: “When I went into the jungle a lot of people asked if I was going to braid my hair down, saying I couldn’t have my afro out in the jungle. But I wanted to have it out and wear it proudly”.
Despite coming second on The X Factor and having huge success with debut single Sax, no follow-up single was released and Fleur was dropped by her label.
Hannah Barrett, The X Factor 2013
Hannah Barrett appeared on the 10th season of X Factor when she was just 17, where she faced a series of racist backlash for being ‘too dark’. She revealed that she received a wave of racist tweets telling her that she was too dark to be a singer, and that she was black and ugly.
She was loved by the judges and stunned the public with her performance of Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind, however, she only finished in 6th place.
Hannah has expressed she felt that people that were interested in black people only preferred those of lighter skin: “In the charts now you have light-skinned people, light-skinned women, that everyone’s attracted to.
“At the end of the day, black is beauty.”
Misha B, The X Factor 2011
Misha B has recently shared her experiences whilst being on the show and the racial narrative of her being over-confident and a bully, driven by the media whilst she was on the show.
On an Instagram live, she told her followers that other contestants would spread rumours about her to judges and other contestants and she was branded by the media as a bully following Tulisa’s comments that the 19-year-old came across as ‘feisty’ and ‘mean’.
In the infamous moment when Misha B was labelled as ‘overconfident’, ‘feisty’ and ‘mean’ by judges Louis Walsh and Tulisa, her popularity with the public plummeted and was never given a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the British voters. Despite releasing solo material in 2012, she wasn’t invited to appear on the main show as a guest, and was instead given a slot on The Xtra Factor.
She said in her live: “Now I know that I am not the only one here that has heard those words. ‘Feisty’, ‘mean’. These are like the common words that people use to describe black women.”
She shared that she wanted to take her own life: “You don’t even know. I remember thinking of ways I could just end the pain. We arrived back at the mansion and all I could think about was running away, just getting out of there.
“Because to me, people stood by and didn’t say anything, or a damn thing when they knew it was wrong and they knew it was lies.”
Misha B, a talented singer didn’t receive a long term development into her career like her white counterparts did. For example, Cher Lloyd who placed fourth in the 7th series of the show received record deals and collaborations with well-known artists like Becky G and Mike Posner, but this similar treatment was not given to Misha who was a semi-finalist in the 8th series of the show.
Joanna Jarjue, The Apprentice 2017
Joanna Jarjue appeared on the thirteenth series of the BBC business programme and has since shared how she felt she was portrayed on the show. Joanna believed that the show had an “engineered narrative” that played on racial stereotypes for the entertainment of viewers. However, she chose not to speak up in fear of “looking like I was playing the race card.”
Whilst on the show, Joanna was presented as a really argumentative and aggressive contestant which wasn’t always the case. It’s no secret that many of the contestants butt heads whilst appearing on The Apprentice but the light shone on Joanna increasingly when in disagreements with others on her team presented her in the media as a difficult person to work with. Something many black women in television are having to deal with.
Leona Lewis, X Factor 2006
The winner of the third season of the X Factor, known for her smash hit ‘Bleeding Love’, Leona Lewis has shared her experiences of racism after she won the X Factor 14 years ago.
Leona shared in a video that she went into a store in Fulham with her dad and soon realised they were the only two black people in the shop. She began to notice the store owner hovering over them and had told her dad: “You need to put that stuff down, you’re not allowed to touch it”, despite others in the shops touching items. The store owner only then apologised when she realised who Leona Lewis was.
Karen Mavundukure, The X Factor 2015
Karen Mavundukure appeared on the 12th series of The X Factor, when Louisa Johnson took first place.
Karen had chosen to sing the widely popular, ‘And I’m Telling You’ from the musical Dreamgirls but was told not to as the song was “overdone” and she needed to stand out. When taking part in the six-chair challenge she had secured herself a seat, however, was swapped by Rita Ora. Karen later tweeted that in scenes that were unaired and edited out, the audience were chanting to bring her back and the producers even prepared her to go back on stage.
The most damning of all was that Louisa Johnson, who went onto win the show sang ‘And I’m Telling You’ and was given a seat.
Leigh-Anne Pinnock, The X Factor 2011
Little Mix star Leigh-Anne Pinnock has shared on social media that she felt like the ‘least favoured’ member of the girl group because of her race. Leigh-Anne who is mixed race has revealed her biggest shock took place when she was on set filming the video for the group’s single ‘Wings’. She was told by black director and choreographer Frank Gatson, “You’re the black girl. You have to work 10 times harder.”
She shared that when she is on tour in predominantly white countries she felt lonely, as she was singing to people who didn’t cheer her on in comparison to the white members in the group. These feelings she said were often downplayed by the majority white team who worked with the girl band, where she began “feeling not like I really belonged”.