Love Island viewers turn on dating show
Is Love Island racist? Viewers turn on dating show after male contestants ignore the only black woman for the second year in a row as former star argues it reveals the shocking truth about modern Britain
For Samira Mighty, posing in a teeny bikini and waiting to be chosen by a handsome Love Island contestant last year was a painful experience.
And it was made all the more humiliating as she was forced to watch over ten long days while one pair of young hopefuls after another paired up.
Of course, sexual attraction is not an exact science, and it may just be that the men in the ITV show preferred other women. Except for one troubling fact: Samira is black, and all the men were white or mixed race.
Last week, her experiences came flooding back as she watched Yewande Biala encounter the same treatment on the new series.
Former Love Island contestant Samira Mighty spoke on black contestant Yewande Biala not being chosen by any of the men on the show
The intelligent scientist from Dublin was not chosen by any of the men, or initially even kissed during any of the ‘challenges’
Once again, the lighter-skinned inhabitants of the Spanish villa where the programme is filmed were seen coupling up first, while Yewande found herself left until last.
The result? An increasing chorus of criticism suggesting that the sun-kissed show is tainted by racism – however unconscious it might be.
All of which raises questions about race and diversity in modern Britain, and whether as a nation we are quite so comfortably integrated as we would wish.
For those who haven’t had the dubious pleasure of watching Love Island, it consists of 12 Instagram-perfect, fame-hungry twentysomethings thrown together in a house in Majorca and invited to ‘couple up’.
Once a pair have chosen each other, they then share a bed – and sometimes have sex on the programme.
It is without doubt tawdry and vacuous, yet, now in its fifth series, it has broken ITV2 ratings records, pulling in 3.7 million viewers for this year’s launch on Monday.
It has even won a Bafta, as well as launching its ‘stars’ into careers that have seen some become millionaires courtesy of lucrative endorsement deals from companies desperate to reach young consumers.
Until now, controversy over the show has surrounded the sleeping arrangements of couples who have only just met. But the shunning last week of Yewande has raised troubling new questions about the programme.
Yewande, a highly intelligent scientist from Dublin, wasn’t chosen by any of the men, or initially even kissed during any of the ‘challenges’ the contestants were told to carry out.
That only changed on day five – Friday night – when she kissed mixed-race firefighter Michael Griffiths.
Samira Mighty was a contestant on Love Island 2018 and the first black woman to star on the show since it began in 2015
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday the former contestant said: ‘I was obviously the token [black woman] on the show, it was easy to work that out’
Samira Mighty, a contestant last year and the first black woman to star on the show since it began in 2015, says the similarity with what happened to her is all too real.
‘I was obviously the token [black woman] on the show, it was easy to work that out. I only had to look at the line of girls when I arrived at the villa,’ Samira, a West End musical star, told The Mail on Sunday in an exclusive interview.
‘There was nobody else who looked like me. ITV are desperate to be diverse, but that is coming across in a way that is quite unfortunate for them. Yewande is a token, too, it’s obvious what is happening.
‘She is the only black girl, and has had little interest from the men, who seem to like blonde white girls with big boobs – or any screen time as a result.’
The latter fact is crucial in a show in which viewers vote contestants out of the villa each week. The last couple standing enjoy a £50,000 prize.
‘We haven’t seen Yewande’s personality,’ says Samira.
‘She looks uncomfortable. She probably feels out of place – maybe her culture is different to that on the show. She might normally hang around with predominately black people. It’s annoying and sad for me that in 2019 this apparent separation between people of different colours still happens.’
Pictured: Samira Mighty receives a text message announcing the dumping on Love Island
This year, as well as Yewande, there is a black male contestant named Sharif Lanre, and mixed-race Michael Griffiths, as well as Anton Danyluk and Amber Gill, both of mixed heritage but caught up in accusations of prejudice themselves.
Pictures of Anton ‘blacked up’ and of Amber rejecting a black suitor stating ‘I don’t like black guys’ have emerged.
Samira says: ‘When none of the black contestants were chosen last week, I thought how on earth is this happening again? I really thought someone might step forward for Yewande to stop this happening after the backlash with me.
‘ITV have tried. But I thought the programme-makers would make sure there would be someone in the line-up who likes black girls, but no, nobody went for Yewande. She was just standing there and none of the boys were looking at her.
‘In the challenges in which you are supposed to kiss the person you think is being talked about by the producers, nobody kissed her until Friday, and even then it was Michael.’
For Londoner Samira, 23, who survived six weeks on the show last year before walking out after finding love with Frankie Foster (the pair split when he cheated on her after the show finished), the debate is a tricky one.
For the fact is that the premise of Love Island is that contestants choose each other on looks and looks alone. This, Samira feels, is going against Yewande.
‘Love Island is so shallow. It’s about first impressions. A lot of boys have their type and they’re open about it. It’s a shame Yewande is left on the shelf because it seems right now she isn’t anyone’s type.
‘However, it’s hard to blame it all on race. We don’t know what her personality is like – she needs to have some screen time so we can see what she is like. I think people have the perception that black people come across as a little cold and intimidating.’
Samira admits for the first time that she became so down about not being picked to be in a relationship last year that she decided to consult a member of the staff on the show.
‘It got to me after a while,’ she says.
‘One day I had a wobble, and so I went to a producer because I thought maybe I was a bit different, and the boys just wanted to go for their type.
When you kept seeing the white, blonde bombshells coming in with these amazing bodies, big boobs, you feel like ‘Oh God, another one. I’m at the back of the queue again’.
‘Anton, from this year’s cast, actually admitted he prefers white girls with big boobs. The thing is, though, you never hear anyone on the show say that they like black girls. I think ITV don’t want that going out on screen, but it is OK to say, ‘I love blondes.’
ITV would no doubt argue that there are five black or mixed-race contestants this year, as well as Anna Vakili, of Iranian heritage, out of 12 contestants altogether – more diverse than ever before.
An ITV spokesman said: ‘We celebrate diversity of every sort and this year’s Love Islanders come from a diverse range of backgrounds with a mix of personalities.’
According to the 2011 Census, 3.3 per cent of the population of England and Wales are black, and 2.2 per cent are mixed race, so it could be said the line-up is actually more than representative of Britain’s cultural diversity.
Samira says: ‘You can’t get away from the fact that ITV have a show they want to get high ratings for, and their priority is to show the drama, not make sure someone we have barely seen gets a love interest. I think the producers, at the back of their minds, thought Yewande and Sharif [who are both black] would get together.
‘I definitely thought that. Even though it is 2019, I still think there is a lot of underlying racism in this country.’
And Samira has experienced it herself. Since splitting from Frankie Foster, she has found a new boyfriend, who is also white.
This has led to criticism of her online by black people who, she says, have called her ‘coconut’ – dark on the outside but white on the inside – and accusing her of not being loyal to the black community.
‘Black people say to me they hope Yewande isn’t like me – they call me coconut because I go out with white boys. Of course I feel sorry for Yewande, but I don’t know her. She might be bland, she might be fun, but we need the chance to see that and we aren’t getting it, which is an absolute shame.’
For Samira though, one fact remains. The casting department of Love Island isn’t putting enough work into recruiting men who are attracted to all types of women – rather than just those with the blonde bombshell look.
‘The producers should work more on the compatibility of the contestants beforehand. They need to have a mix of people in the villa who like everyone, and who will give everyone a chance.
‘I want to see a Chinese person or an Indian person. That would be so good. This isn’t just about black people. I think it would be good to have many different cultures in there.’
Samira, who has starred in West End shows including Dreamgirls, has made a fortune since she left the villa last year courtesy of lucrative fashion and beauty deals with brands such as Missy Empire clothing and Impulse deodorants.
But even now she says she often feels like the token black girl.
‘I feel brands don’t show enough black or mixed-race people on their Instagram pages,’ she says. ‘I know I’m not featured as much as white people with brands I work for.’
She has kept in contact with most of her Love Island cast, and out of respect, attended the funeral of former contestant Mike Thalassitis, who took his own life earlier this year.
His death prompted criticism of Love Island and ITV, questioning their duty of care of its contestants. Samira takes issue with such claims, revealing that following a bout of depression after Frankie cheated on her, she contacted the show and bosses immediately gave her two therapy sessions.
‘I found it very difficult,’ she says. ‘I was so down, so depressed that I went to the doctor.
‘Frankie cheated on me and it was so humiliating. People were sending me videos of him kissing other girls. I would struggle to get out of bed. I had always kept in contact with some of the lovely producers, so I told them and they straight away got me a counsellor. It is a shame others don’t feel they can come forward.
‘The producers see everyone having the time of their lives on social media so don’t know they are having problems in the real world.
‘If people are projecting their lives as being brilliant, then how are they do know that people like Mike are struggling?’
Meanwhile, the growing controversy over the racial dynamics of the show will continue – offering a microcosm of a society which may yet be a little more fractured than people might think.
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