Getting rid of  Bo' Selecta and Little Britain is a start, but it's not enough

Getting rid of Bo' Selecta and Little Britain is a start, but it's not enough

June 10, 2020

The BBC, Netflix and Britbox have all taken the decision to remove Little Britain and Come Fly With Me from their platforms over the use of blackface.

On both shows David Walliams and Matt Lucas often wore makeup to portray characters of different races, including health-spa snob Desiree Devere and airport worker Taaj.

Little Britain also featured Thai bride Ting Tong and Maggie Blackamoor – a member of the Women’s Institute who is racist and homophobic.

Similarly All 4 has taken down Leigh Francis’ sketch show Bo’ Selecta after the star apologised for using blackface to mock Mel B, Craig David, Michael Jackson and Trisha Goddard.

Getting in before the cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ – it isn’t.

It is understandable why those broadcasters have taken the decision to remove the programmes (although it took Francis’ apology for Channel 4 to do it). Attitudes have moved on, and in 2020 the sketches are outdated and, yeah, offensive.

But wouldn’t it have been better to keep those programmes available to watch and instead adding a warning about offensive themes, in a similar way to Disney Plus?

The service has added a message alerting viewers when content contains ‘outdated cultural depictions’ in films like The Jungle Book and Peter Pan. Surely it’s better to educate rather than eradicate?

If people want to watch Little Britain or Bo’ Selecta then they will. Fans of those shows likely sang along to Proper Crimbo, still use the catchphrases and will not care one bit about blackface.

Walliams and Lucas should not have their pasts conveniently scrubbed, even if they both have moved on from – in their own words – ‘cruel comedy’.

Removing or modifying old programmes and films should be pretty far down on the list of priorities. If broadcasters and streaming services want to make a lasting, real-world change they need to do more. Much more.

HBO Max can remove Gone With The Wind, but what are they – and other broadcasters or streaming services – doing internally? Some suggestions:

It could be hiring more diverse talent in decision-making or commissioning positions. It could be getting more BAME creatives not just in front of the camera but behind and, most importantly, keeping them in those positions. Look at Noughts and Crosses, or Chewing Gum or Man Like Mobeen as examples of what can be achieved.

It’s the BBC working towards addressing pay gaps for people from BAME backgrounds and disabled staff as outlined in their gender pay gap report last year. It’s ITV not waiting another 59 years to introduce a black family to Weatherfield.

Comedian Mo Gilligan, who fronts his own – very popular – show on Channel 4, put it best: ‘Don’t be posting #BlackLivesMatter if you’re not going to change the landscape of the industry you’re part of.’ And taking down a 15-year-old sketch show is the least that can be done.

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