Who knew a dance routine could cause so much controversy? No, it’s not Cuties or Dance Moms prompting fury. Instead, it was a performance on Britain’s Got Talent by street dance troupe Diversity, reflecting on the events of 2020 so far.
The routine, set to an abridged version of Tom Foolery’s poem ‘The Great Realisation’, shows us “a world of waste and wonder, of poverty and plenty, / Back before we understood why hindsight’s 2020”, with depictions of businesses obsessed with profits, frantic warehouse workers packing boxes and a family at dinner, each staring at their phone. None of these sections raised complaints. Instead, it was the group’s references to the Black Lives Matter movement which lit up social media and led to the performance becoming the second most complained about TV moment of the decade.
In a deviation from the poem, the dance group continued, moving to the voiceover: “While we all were hidden, under orders of the Prime Minister / People dusted off their instincts and noticed something more sinister / Another disease, deep-rooted in our system / Fear, hate and ignorance but racism was the symptom”. A white dancer, dressed as a police officer, knelt on the neck of Ashley Banjo, the leader of the routine and a current guest judge on Britain’s Got Talent. The group then all took the knee before the start of the song ‘Black Lives Matter’ by Dax, which includes a repeated use of Floyd’s last words – “I can’t breathe”.
While the immediate response on social media suggested extreme reactions, press sensationalism has contributed to a rise in complaints. The Daily Mail has currently run 25 articles regarding this dance routine, gleefully cataloguing a rise in complaints from just over 2000 to approximately 24,000 and no doubt prompting more.
Ashley’s brother, fellow Diversity member Jordan Banjo, spoke on Kiss FM about the routine’s response by the public, saying that “it was really important, it was special to us. We’re all about positivity and love and we got so much positivity and love back from this one but we also got bombarded with messages and articles… horrible stuff about all of us, about our families, about how even now Diversity isn’t diverse enough because there’s only five white people in it… It’s sad, genuinely. I feel anxious and worried saying something like black lives matter.” His final comment encapsulates the conflict underpinning the complaints. No one should feel anxious or worried when they say that people shouldn’t be murdered by the police. It is the epitome of a reasonable statement. The right to live without fear should not be a political issue. When it becomes one, that is a damning indictment of those who deny that black lives matter.
Sensibly, Ofcom has confirmed that it will not be launching an investigation into the performance. A spokesperson stated: “We carefully considered a large number of complaints about this artistic routine, an area where freedom of expression is particularly important.
“Diversity’s performance referred to challenging and potentially controversial subjects, and in our view, its central message was a call for social cohesion and unity.
“Any depictions of violence by the performers were highly stylised and symbolic of recent global events, and there was no explicit reference to any particular political organisation – but rather a message that the lives of black people matter.”
ITV also stood behind the routine, taking out full-page newspaper adverts in all national newspapers to show their support for Diversity. An image of the performers was captioned “We are changed by what we see. Just as we are changed when we are seen. ITV. Stand with Diversity”. Ashley Banjo responded to the ITV advertisements, posting an image of himself kneeling along with a statement: “This is what change looks like. ITV stand with Diversity and we’ve never been prouder.”
On Saturday’s episode of Britain’s Got Talent, Alesha Dixon also showed her support of diversity by wearing three pendants, layered letters ‘B’, ‘L’ and ‘M’ to spell out (unsurprisingly) BLM. 1,675 Ofcom complaints followed; Ofcom has not yet released a statement regarding if they will investigate these complaints. However, an investigation seems rightfully unlikely based on their previous comments.
Still, these complaints – and the far more regarding Diversity’s routine – suggest a schism in our country which won’t be easily healed. When the right to not being killed by the very people who are supposed to protect you becomes controversial, there’s no space for arguing. It shouldn’t be discussed in the House of Commons or debated on social media. We should all know and believe that black lives matter. Any creative expression – whether it’s dance, art or poetry – of this statement should be respected rather than ridiculed.
Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador