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Case study – Celebrity humanitarianism – The digital saviour

Case Study - Celebrity Humanitarianism – The Digital Saviour
The next case study is about no white saviors.  No white saviors have a massive following   on Instagram and they’re a small activist  organization that are trying to change the   narratives of stories of Africa. I first found out  about no white saviors last year when there was a   huge debate around Comic Relief. A white beautiful  heroine holding a black child with no agency,   no parents in sight completely supine and I’m  afraid it perpetuates an image. Strictly’s Stacy   Dooley was hit with criticism from Labour MP David  Lammy as he accused her of encouraging a white   savior complex over her comic relief trip  to Africa. Comic Relief is responsible for   young people in britain black and whites their  understanding of Africa.
This was her way of using   her power and privilege to do something good  and we need more of that. Her crime appeared to be   she was white well here’s an observation for  looney Lammy and his ilk fair-minded white people   are allowed to show compassion. She tweeted and  she said genuine question David is it because I am   white. I think that suggests she doesn’t understand  the issues doesn’t it. You’re well-meaning   and so you think okay actually i can’t go there  because I’m white I can’t do this charity video   because I’m white that in itself is racist.
High  commissioner people in Britain are very confused   and I think people are wounded in their heart  about this because their intentions are good and   they simply want to know do you need our charity  or not. The world was waking up and seeing that   this was not okay sending celebrities to africa  and taking photos with random children shouldn’t   be part of Comic Relief’s campaign David Lammy  started tweeting and saying Africa doesn’t need   more white saviors and it made rounds and rounds  in London but it started from our desk right here   at the knowledge savior saying no we are sure  you don’t know this child and yes that was it.  
The family was not in the project the Comic Relief  project and we said to the world what does this   portray does this mean that African children can  be used as props anytime because you’re celebrity   coming from London and you do this and you walk  away the reaction from Dooley was was something   that we expected because um she was trying to  protect her privilege you know. She was trying   to her image and matches we talked about it and  wanted the image down she didn’t put it down but   this puts out there to the world as a big example  for people to see that this is how a people with   privilege will use it.
It’s good that the world is  waking up and people are not just taking things   for granted with social media within a snap of  a finger someone is able to say no we don’t want   this if you want real change if you want to get to  the person that is actually committing the crime   you have to be more vigorous in how you’re doing  this and we believe there is no other way would be   able to deliver this message to the intended group  without social media. You break boundaries you are   able to communicate to people that are thousands  and thousands of miles away you’re able to reach   your message to the intended audience.
Comic Relief  came out and said that they had stopped sending   celebrities to Africa who said no that’s not the  solution you have to do it right you have to do   it right and you have to change your strategies  because i think for 30 i think 35 years or more   they have been working in African countries and  they didn’t know that some of the things they were   doing had effects on people with African ancestry  that is so wrong there was someone seeing this   but because Africa is portrayed as a continent  that needs saving all the time so everything that   comes to us should be appreciated and this is what  we against we’re saying we shouldn’t be grateful   for everything coming because we need the aid it  shouldn’t come with strings attached to Africa.

The use of celebrities in humanitarianism and charity work has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. In the UK and US much has been written about the work of celebrities such as Bod Geldof, Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Bill Gates.

Celebrity Humanitarianism takes many forms: concerts, product/campaign endorsement, visits with NGOs, lobbying and fundraising. Given the popularity of social media it is even easier to involve celebrities in global issues.

Can celebrities assist in international development or are they merely involved for self-promotion and/or profiteering? Kapoor (2012) believes that celebrities often do more harm than good as they depoliticize the issues by tackling the symptoms rather than the causes. Brockington (2014) furthers this argument by stating that ‘celebrity’ is good for sustaining the NGO sector but not so good at tackling inherently problematic development issues such as poverty and inequality.

Another problem with celebrity humanitarians is how they represent people from other countries. In this short film David Lammy, an UK MP says “Comic Relief is responsible for young people in Britain, blacks and whites, their understanding of Africa? No White Saviors the NGO interviewed in Uganda said “Sending celebrities to Africa and taking photos with random children in not ok.” Do you agree?

  • What is a White Saviour?
  • Should charities use celebrities in their campaigns?

Use the comment link below to post your ideas.


Kapoor, I (2012) Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity. Routledge. London.

Brockington, D (2014) Celebrity Advocacy and International Development. Routledge. London and New York.

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Why Does Media Matter for Development?

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