The Slums: Reggie Yates' Extreme South Africa, TV review: A reversal of a racial trope
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Thursday 20 February 2014
World news and current-affairs shows regularly offer up images of poverty-stricken brown children and benevolent white TV personalities. It's a racial trope so pervasive you might not have noticed it until last night, when The Slums: Reggie Yates' Extreme South Africa (BBC3) reversed this familiar visual.
Here was a shanty town filled with barefoot white children playing in the dirt, and here was a black presenter explaining and emoting. This visit to Coronation Park, a squatter camp for poor white South Africans, was like a paranoid sci-fi thriller funded by a far-right pressure group, only for real.
Real, but not exactly representative of modern-day South Africa, either. This focus on the shocking images of Coronation Park risked obscuring some bigger post-apartheid truths. Reggie was careful to note that while there are an estimated 400,000 white South Africans living below the poverty line, this is still a country where 90 per cent of the poor are black and where 50 per cent of privately held assets are owned by the white minority.
Clearly it's more complicated than the "reverse racism as revenge" analysis proposed by one Afrikaner pressure group. Nor did Reggie share the conception of justice expressed by one resigned Coronation Park resident: "It's time now for us to pay for what our fathers did."
This is youth-orientated public service broadcasting at its best, and much of that's down to the presenter. Reggie Yates is informed without being pompous, engaging without being patronising and open-minded, while still able to express an opinion. After a few years of having him front every doomed X Factor rip-off going, it appears the BBC has finally realised the value of their asset.
This three-part documentary series is the most impressive thing he's done yet – bar voicing CBeebies' Rastamouse, obviously.
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