Diversity, Poverty Porn and Caster Semenya

Authors: Jece Shunmugam, Ayesha Hussain, Antoinette Lansana
  • Reading time: 5 mins min.
  • Posted on: September 14, 2020

Read on for a hand picked selection of the good, the bad and the one to get behind in the world of social impact communications. This week, we’re highlighting Diversity’s Black Lives Matter-inspired performance, poverty porn and the Caster Semenya ruling.

Photo credit: Ashley Banjo

| NAILED IT: Performance art done right

More than 15,000 people have complained to media watchdog Ofcom following Diversity’s Black Lives Matter-inspired performance on Britain’s Got Talent, with many arguing that the talent show was being (and should not be) overtly political. But here at Shape History, we strongly believe that the use of powerful performance art such as that demonstrated by Diversity can and should be used to convey strong social commentary messages. 

Art, dance, music, and theatre have always been inherently political. Endless examples come to mind, from Michael Jackson’s song “Black or White, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video or Stormzy and Dave’s politically-charged performance at the Brits earlier this year.

So the reaction by tens of thousands of people arguing against its presence on a national TV show only serves to highlight exactly why it’s needed. Sometimes art can be the most powerful way to make a message, and by delivering an inclusive, compelling and provocative performance during the peak of TV family viewing time, Diversity has certainly done that. 

| ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: We’re no longer tolerating white saviourism 

Room for improvement is a huge understatement for the tired and damaging video that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) broadcasted across Canada. The $400,000 fundraising campaign was poverty porn at it’s finest, featuring videos of black children crying in distress while MSF workers treated them in their hospital beds. This isn’t just a blunder but speaks to a wider problem within the international aid sector about how they depict African countries in their campaigns. 

The video is a perfect example of the exploitative marketing techniques that have been employed in this sector for decades, which serve to make the white-led organisations appear heroic whilst trivialising the lives of their beneficiaries and perpetuating racist stereotypes. In 2020 you’d like to think that these methods would be scrapped in favour of depictions that give aid beneficiaries their own agency and respect, but the MSF video is a sad and disappointing reminder that this sector has a huge amount of work to do. 

| THE ONE TO GET BEHIND: Hands Off Caster Semenya

Over the past few years, the treatment Caster Semenya has received in the media and in athletics has raised the discourse around transphobia and misogynoir. On Tuesday, after facing scrutiny and discrimination in athletics for over a decade, Semenya lost what appeared to be her final appeal to compete in her most noted event, 800 metres at the Tokyo Olympics next summer. The ruling argued that due to her difference in sex development, in which a side effect is increased testosterone, she must take drugs to lower her levels at the compromise of her health. Although a win for the world track organisation, it highlighted how sports regulatory bodies struggle to form objective polices around biological sex, gender identity and fair play.

Following this ruling, individuals are continuing to appeal to the International Amatuer Athletics Federation (IAAF), noting that these demands for Semenya are targeted and violent. 

Athletics South Africa, the country’s governing body for running that backs Semenya have called the World Athletics testosterone policy “discriminatory, unnecessary, unreliable and disproportionate.”

The South African government also stands with her:

“As South Africans, we all have a constitutional obligation to contest any infringements of human rights, shaped by our experiences under apartheid.”

To sign the petition objecting the ruling, click here.