Channel 4’s groundbreaking “Black to Front” initiative, which sees the network’s entire schedule led by Black talent on and off screen for one day, has garnered mostly positive reactions despite concerns about tokenism.
Among the programs was a brief return for popular 1990s morning show “The Big Breakfast,” this time with comedian Mo Gilligan and presenter AJ Odudu slipping into original hosts Johnny Vaughn and Denise van Outen’s seats on the couch, and distinguished newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald taking over from Anne Robinson on “Countdown.” “Black to Front” will continue to air into primetime, with some of the specially commissioned shows like “Highlife” and “Big Age” premiering later on Friday.
There was some concern ahead of the broadcast that the initiative was tokenistic. “As a black person in the UK TV industry all i wanted was a fair and equal shot as my white counterparts..,” comedian London Hughes posted on Twitter in July. “Don’t just give us ‘Black to Front’ days just so you can feel better about not including ppl of colour in your tv output for the rest of the year it’s insulting.
“And now the talented black people who will be chosen for this ‘black to front’ day will know that’s it’s not to do with their talent, but with a quota… or a tick box… if you want to shine a light on black talent… HOW ABOUT JUST NORMALLY BOOKING AND HIRING MORE BLACK TALENT,” she added.
Babe ch 4 literally have the power and facilities to do everything I mentioned above. They literally could just give black ppl jobs without a Negro day. The day feels performative, it makes them look progressive without making real change. But let’s see what happens in 6 months.
— London Hughes (@TheLondonHughes) September 9, 2021
As the initiative unfolded live on air on Friday, however, the reaction was generally positive.
“I understand all the arguments around Tokenism etc but #BlackToFront is really exciting, entertaining, warming, affirming etc to watch,” tweeted Richie Brave, host of the BBC’s “1Xtra Talks.” “I remember this feeling when Black shows used to come on back in the day[.]”
I understand all the arguments around Tokenism etc but #BlackToFront is really exciting, entertaining, warming, affirming etc to watch. I remember this feeling when Black shows used to come on back in the day
— Richie Brave (@RichieBrave) September 10, 2021
Marcus Ryder, chair of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and head of external consultancies at the Lenny Henry Centre For Media Diversity, wrote on the site: “Good luck to everyone taking part in @Channel4 #BlackToFront today. Today might be the showcase but its success will be how the C4 looks in a year’s time / 10 years’ time.”
Good luck to everyone taking part in @Channel4 #BlackToFront today. Today might be the showcase but its success will be how the C4 looks in a year’s time / 10 years’ time.
Read @LHC4MD report on what C4 must do to ensure sustainable change from today. https://t.co/MZ8TVHPVYS pic.twitter.com/N9ZNjjUO2a
— Marcus Ryder MBE (@marcusryder) September 10, 2021
And journalist and presenter Marverine Cole, who took over from Susie Dent as guest chair on “Countdown’s” Dictionary Corner said that while Hughes’ questions were “understandable” there was “a lot more to this project that people should know before dismissing it.”
“Black To Front Day should be the kick in the derriere to all British broadcasters and brands that Black talent exists, and we are not a turn off,” Cole wrote in an article about her experience. “We are a reason to switch on.”
Speaking to Variety last month, commissioner Vivienne Molokwu, who conceived of the idea with colleague Shaminder Nahal, said: “We don’t have [ViacomCBS-owned Black culture-focused channel] BET… so for [this] to happen on mainstream television felt like it would be huge. It would mean that we’d all keep talking about something we know we can’t fix overnight.
“We have to take quite large steps,” she added. “And yes, those last steps may end up being controversial. But if we get to a better place, I have no issue with that.”+
Check out some more reactions below:
Just going to keep plugging #BlackToFront because I’ve been getting so emotional seeing black talent on every ad, every show and knowing that BEHIND THE CAMERA there are black operators doing their thing. Please more of this!!! pic.twitter.com/XlxwY9LyoY
— Henna (@henna_rav) September 10, 2021
Some of the critique of #BlackToFront is valid and we know that it has to be more than just one day, but we shouldn't dismiss it.
It's a feel good and fun collection of programmes overall. I've enjoyed what I've watched so far.
Is it enough? No.
Can we enjoy it? Yes.
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) September 10, 2021
I know for now it's just a gimmick for black viewership but look how far we have come from being tokens to hosting and writing our own stuff. I feel hopeful as an aspiring Black British film maker right now because this means I might get to showcase my work at home #BlackToFront pic.twitter.com/qp6w9ysVMj
— Omolara 🇳🇬🇬🇧 (@OmolaraOh) September 10, 2021
I’ve defo done some big belly laughs at TV today and a semi permanent grin at both the content, the adverts, the energy, everyting! Representation matters and I hope this leads to more opportunities because there’s more than an abundance of talent #blacktofront #C4BlackAndProud
— ReasezPieces 🇯🇲🇮🇳 (@Reasezpieces) September 10, 2021
Today has been AMAZING. I've never seen us represented in so many different ways on UK television and I'm living for it #BlackToFront
— GOODAZ GENERAL🇯🇲🇯🇲 (@AsiaMonet18) September 10, 2021