By Cerys Jones | Comment Editor
The British street dance troupe, Diversity, who rose to prominence on ITV’s prime-time Saturday night entertainment show, Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) have become subject to scrutiny following their performance inspired by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement which aired on the show last Saturday.
Throughout the four-minute choreographed routine, Diversity showcased the impact of racial discrimination and police brutality within the black community. Performed to a spoken word poem ‘The Great Realisation’ by Tom Foolery, the leader of the troupe, Ashley Banjo, was seen being knelt upon by a white police officer, a reference to George Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25.
Critics expressed that the televised talent show competition was an inappropriate platform for a performative political statement. In response, Banjo explained that the performance intended to be a “round-up of an extraordinary year”, and to “summarise the crazy rollercoaster of emotions” which have defined 2020.
The UK’s media and communications regulator, Ofcom, received more than 21,000 complaints following Diversity’s performance, the highest statistic since Roxanne Pallett appeared in Celebrity Big Brother in 2018. A spokesperson for the media watchdog, Ofcom, told the BBC:
“We are assessing the complaints against our broadcasting rules, but are yet to decide whether or not to investigate”.
It is important to note that the negative opinions surrounding the performance are not the majority. Banjo stated: “I know that a lot of the press reports and the headlines have been about the complaints and the negativity… but trust me I’m right in the center of it and the negativity is the minority”.
Numerous public figures have condemned the people who took issue to Diversity’s BLM inspired performance. Television personality Piers Morgan spoke out on Monday’s Good Morning Britain show in defence of the dance troupe, stating that people who complained are “part of the problem”.
The global pandemic and its impact on society was a key element in the choreography, but the routine’s prominent focus on racism and the essential conversation surrounding the BLM movement had the largest impact.
The dance troupe’s decision to include the song “Black Lives Matter” by Dax, taking a knee to the lyric “I can’t breathe”, a reference to the restrain of George Floyd, became subject to criticism and controversy on social media. One tweet reads “I thought Diversity was better than using BLM to promote themselves”.
Diversity members and hosts of Kiss breakfast radio, Jordan Banjo and Perri Kiely expressed their disappointment regarding the performance’s reception on Wednesday show. Banjo said:
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s sad, it’s sad genuinely. I feel anxious and worried saying something like black lives matter when that’s all we want, man. It’s just love and positivity. No-one’s saying only black lives matter”.
Through utilising BGT’s large platform and audience reach, the former BGT winners opened the door for further discussion regarding a necessary political and social movement, thus contributing towards greater change. A spokesperson for BGT stated:
“Diversity’s performance offered their take on the extraordinary events of 2020 opening up important topics of conversation. The show was compiled for a family audience”.
The influx of negative responses disseminated on social media and through complaints to Ofcom fuels the assumption that the general British public is not prepared to eliminate the racism that is so deep-rooted in the nation. The performance was done with the intent of educating and entertaining, and highlights the need for change within our society.
Notably, members of the dance group have been subject to racial discrimination. Banjo spoke in a frank manner about his own experiences in the recent Channel 4 documentary, The Talk. The dancer stated that he had been pulled over “tens of times”, and “don’t get me started on car theft… don’t get me started on ‘you match the description’”. The routine was representative of their own personal experience, in addition to the experience of many other members of the black community.
Through their craft, the dance troupe sparked a nation-wide conversation. The intent of the performance, which was to inform, educate, and entertain, was silenced by negativity stemming from political beliefs. The poor reception of the powerful performance evoked the need for a radical change regarding the discrimination against black people within society.