Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power review – Little Mix star’s BBC documentary is gripping and insightful

Documentary explores Pinnock’s experiences as the sole Black member of one of the world’s biggest pop groups, and her efforts to enact change within the music industry

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 14 May 2021 09:14
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Little Mix thank Jesy Nelson in powerful acceptance speech

Two days before the release of Little Mix star Leigh-Anne Pinnock’s documentary, she posted a strongly worded message from the band’s official Twitter account. The 29-year-old was addressing a caption on the frontpage of the Metro newspaper, which had confused her with her bandmate, Jade Thirlwall. As Pinnock pointed out in her tweet, this was far from the first time the pair had been confused for one another.

“Why is it that the two women of colour are always mistaken for each other?” she wrote. “Ten years in and still this is happening. This is the type of s*** Jade and I have had to deal with for 10 years and this is another reason as to why I was fuelled to make my doc. #DOBETTER.”

Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power is a gripping exploration of race and racism within the British music industry. Told from Pinnock’s perspective, as the sole Black member of a pop band with a predominantly white fanbase, it goes to great efforts to present these issues in a way that might inform and educate the fans themselves. But more than that, Race, Pop & Power shows how keen Pinnock is not to position herself as a spokesperson for all Black female artists in the UK.

In the documentary, Pinnock is visibly torn between her understanding of colourism (society’s preferential treatment of light-skinned Black people to those with darker skin), her own lived experiences of racism, and her desire to use her huge platform to raise awareness. She acknowledges that she is by no means an expert on the “many different types of racism”, addressing this by interviewing MP Dawn Butler about the racist abuse she has faced, and the hosts of a podcast whom she met on a Black Lives Matter march.

She meets a wall of silence, however, when she attempts to speak to the head of her own record label, Sony, about what executives are doing to support to tackle a lack of diversity within the industry. Earlier, Pinnock had observed how she is frequently surrounded by an all-white group of makeup artists, crewmembers, photographers and video directors. She is disappointed by Sony’s apparent reluctance to have a representative appear on camera, joking, “that’s me dropped from the label” when she gently criticises them for it. Yet she uses the moment to point out how essential it is for white people to engage in these conversations as well.

Pinnock may have been joking about being dropped, but there is a long and terrible history of the music industry failing Black female artists or punishing them for being vocal about the prejudice they face. Last year, writer and academic Janine Francois wrote a column for The Independent on how the music industry failed would-be Black British pop stars: “I have noticed how the UK music industry works, letting in one black female singer in at a time as if on some kind of rotation,” she said. “When we do have a sizable do “breakthrough”, they often all have light skin, just look at our current cohort right now.”

The message you take away from Race, Pop & Power depends on personal identity. As a white viewer, it’s about the importance of being an ally, and of being aware that it is not enough simply to “not be racist”. Progress, as Pinnock demonstrates so well, is achieved much faster when people work together.

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