Interview: Yewande Biala, Amy Hart, and Rosie Williams
We spoke to the ex-Love Islanders after their Union talk about racial diversity and empowering professional women on Love Island
Content note: Discussion of racial micro-aggressions and discrimination
As the warm weather arrives and football returns to our screens, Love Island is also coming back on 28 June. The show has faced increasing criticism in recent years for the mental impact it has had on its contestants and the narratives that it endorses. Speaking to the Union a couple of weeks ago, ex-Love Islanders Yewande Biala, Amy Hart, and Rosie Williams discussed mental health.
While their conversation with the Union audience ranged from Instagram and how “people love to hate Love Island”, to body image and their personal experiences, The Tab interviewed the ex-Love Islanders afterwards about racial diversity and female professionalism.
‘I think it definitely does have a diversity problem’
Love Island has been criticised from the start for its lack of diversity in race, body shape, sexuality, as well as many other areas. For example, Megan Barton Hanson recently suggested that the programme would benefit from having an all-bisexual cast. Speaking to The Tab about her experiences as a Black woman, Yewande told The Tab that the show “definitely does have a diversity problem”.
Yewande spoke to the Union about her experience with “microaggressions” and “racialised renaming” on the show when fellow Love Islander Lucie Donlan mispronounced her name on numerous occasions (even when corrected). Having shared these encounters with her Twitter followers last year, Yewande told the Union that “there’s not enough that’s said” when “it affects so many people from ethnic minorities”.
When talking to The Tab, she described her other experiences with racial discrimination around the show. She said, “I wouldn’t say I’m the loudest person in the world…not once did I ever raise my voice on that show, never, ever, ever.” Yet, upon exiting the villa, she saw an article “pushing that angry black woman narrative”. She added that the stereotypes and aggressions that dominate “society” cannot be isolated from her experiences on Love Island.
Yewande said that people are always asking “how do we fix this problem? How do we become more diverse?” and that, for many, the answer is to “just throw in more ethnic minorities”. However, Yewande sees it as a “systematic issue” and suggests that the programme needs to be “diverse within the producers and directors”.
She reflects that in her time there during interviews and in within the cast members, she “had only seen one black producer” and no “other ethnic groups”. She feels that “the companies don’t want to look” at these problems, but that if they “make it diverse within, it is going to reflect into the show”.
‘What is a stereotypical Love Islander these days?’
When asked how Love Island empowers professional women, Rosie offered that she likes the “versatile” range of jobs that it showcases.
“Women can work, do anything, and be on Love Island – it’s 2021,” she added.
While Rosie was employed as a solicitor, Yewande worked as an oncology vaccine specialist, and Amy was an air hostess before entering Love Island. Rosie added that the diversity of the jobs breaks down the female “stereotype that you can either be one thing or another and you can’t do it all”.
Speaking to the Union, Amy said “people love to hate on Love Island”, an idea which has arguably extended into how their professionalism has been perceived by the show’s audience and those on social media. Rosie described how Piers Morgan asked if her parents were “ashamed” that she went on Love Island and why she “quit her job as a lawyer to go on a stupid show like that”. She expressed that she was “blown away” that “a man with two children” could have that opinion on “people our age and what we do”.
Yewande added she had also experienced the idea that professionalism is at odds with Love Island. She described how, two weeks before she entered the show, one of her colleagues discussed how “only stupid people, and no professionals” go on it. Knowing she was flying to Majorca soon, Yewande said she was taken aback. She said that we need to “break down these ideologies and stereotypes” and that “professional people have a life; they want to find love”.
The three of them of revealed they’ve been frequently asked whether they are still a solicitor, scientist or air hostess. Yewande told The Tab: “I went to university for five years and I have two degrees that will never be taken away from me.
“Ten years later I can still go into a bio farm and say this is my experience, here are my degrees, and they’ll hire me,” she added. “I am a scientist, I’ll die a scientist.”
Meanwhile, Amy described how she entered Love Island knowing she would have to “start again at the bottom” of her career but saw it as an “opportunity” to bring new experiences. For these Love Islanders, it appears that professionalism is an aspect of your life that will always stay with you.
‘So much time to think about every little thing’
At the Union, the Love Islanders said that their experiences on the show had forced them to confront their mental wellbeing. Yewande said that, for challenges, they would “stand for three hours, sometimes not allowed to say a word” and not know which aspects of their day would be televised. She emphasised how difficult it was being “alone” with your “thoughts”, adding that by the final week of the show she “needed an hour every single day to myself and just cried”. Similarly, Rosie said that she asked for “time off” filming after reaching “breaking point.”
All three discussed how they reached out for support from the mental health advisors within the show. For Yewande, it was the “first time” that she “actually spoke to someone”. Amy stressed to the Union how important therapy, especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, had been as her partner on the show, Curtis, recoupled with another girl. She also added that the staff on hand were supportive, with “welfare girls” watching the screens and taking them out if they looked like they “needed five minutes”.
In the talk, Amy emphasised that though Love Island might appear real, it’s a “structured reality”. I can’t help but feel that often people forget that these people behind the show are human beings and inspirational women using their platforms to raise awareness about important issues.