What the Dooley-Lammy row can teach us about perception

Comic Relief takes over our TV screens this Friday amid a backdrop of controversy sparked by the MP David Lammy’s comments on Stacey Dooley’s film for the charity.

A fortnight ago Lammy, Dooley and the internet at large got into a deeply contentious debate about ethnicity, Comic Relief, charity and the perception of Africa.

This soon became a shouting match with some people, deliberately or otherwise, interpreting Lammy’s comments to mean only “black” people can help Africans, or by the same token, suggesting that “white” people like Dooley only go to Africa so they can get a great social media pic to allow them to virtue signal.

The ins and outs of this debate have been covered by many bloggers and journalists, and there is little benefit to be adding my two penneth.

However, from a video production perspective, this episode provides a salutary reminder of the importance of anticipating the ways in which your content could be perceived, and how this might undermine an otherwise noble message.

When Dooley posed for a photo with a small African child her skin colour was probably the last thing on her mind, but it impacted the way in which some people, like Lammy, viewed her actions.

Anticipating perception and the ramifications of your content is a key part of the production process.

One of the benefits of animation is the cost effective manner with which you have complete control you have over the look and feel of the content both in terms of people and the environment they’re in.

If it’s not quite hitting the mark, redraw it.

If it’s not representative of a wide cross section of your industry or community, then add some more characters and make it representative.

Alternatively, remove gender, ethnicity or disability from your character designs completely, to avoid any negative perceptions about diversity, or lack thereof.

The two examples below are from a HIV awareness charity and an offender rehabilitation charity. Two difficult issues where ethnicity or gender could be polarising.

The characters here are clearly people, but not of a particular group; ensuring the focus is firmly on the issues.

Perception can also come into the depiction of locations. How a place is shown is something we had to consider when creating an animation for the Grantham Research Institute on the impact of El Nino on southern Africa.

Key to the portrayal was that the graphics reflected Lusaka and Gaborone as the modern cities they are, and avoided hackneyed imagery of impoverished African villages.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Dooley-Lammy row, it served to highlight the importance of stepping out of your shoes and anticipating how your content could be perceived.

Failing to do so, or just getting it wrong can divert attention away from the messages you’re working so hard to communicate.

Dan Atkinson
By Dan Atkinson