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“Love Island UK” fans of color say that the lack of diversity in the series is driving away viewers and diverse contestants.
During the reality dating competition, young adults (who all look like models) are brought to an Island villa and given a chance to win £50,000 by forming couples that audiences eventually vote on.
Not only have past seasons lacked Asian contestants, but fans have also seen a pattern of Black women on the show, who are the last to be picked in the first opportunity to form couples — such as Samira Mighty in season four and Yewande Biala in season 5 — or repeatedly overlooked throughout the season.
Ahead of this year’s season of “Love Island UK,” ITV’s commissioner Amanda Stavri told Radiotimes.com that the channel wants “to encourage greater inclusivity and diversity.”
However, according to some fans, this season has done little to change the status quo. In fact, 14 out of the 37 contestants that went into the villa were people of color this season, but many of them didn’t have a proper chance of finding a love match.
Sharon Gaffka, a mixed-race contestant from this season, told Insider earlier this year that she “struggled” during her time at the villa due to “lack of diversity,” which caused her to ask: “Whose type was I?”
“Why was I brought in here? Who was I supposed to be? Or was I just somebody’s space to fill? I did feel like that at times,” she added.
Insider also spoke to fans of the hit dating show about why the series, despite their efforts, doesn’t satisfy when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Their conversations highlighted that although there is some diversity, the show doesn’t properly ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity of finding love.
‘Love Island’ is getting better with diversity, but it still fails in efforts of inclusion.
Harmen Gill, who has been watching “Love Island” since its second season, told Insider that she thought the series was improving when it came to diversity, pointing to Hugo Hammond, the first person casted “with a disability,” and Shannon Singh, a South Asian contestant. The two were both one of the first contestants to come into the villa this season, a rarity for the show.
But when Singh was removed from the villa after only two episodes on the show, Gill was disappointed.
“Shannon didn’t get any air time and then got chucked out straight away whereas in other recouplings people stay single,” the 21-year-old fan from Leicester, England, said, hinting at a double standard.
Gill believes that if contestants, who come from marginalized communities are then booted soon after, it doesn’t make other diverse contestants want to apply to be on the highly-competitive series.
“By them getting rid of the first Asian girl on the second night, [it] would reduce the number of Asian girls applying in the future,” Gill said, referring to Singh.
While it’s unclear how many diverse contestants apply for the show, there may be some merit to Gill’s argument. In the past, body positivity influencer Jada Sezer and TV personality Jeremy Clarkson’s daughter, Emily, have both turned down spots on “Love Island” because they did not want to be “tokenized” due to the fact that they are plus-size.
“In order to give it the diversity it so desperately needs, there will first need to be a woman that doesn’t look as good in a bikini as the others, a man who’s balding, someone in a wheelchair, a person with a scar,” Clarkson wrote in an opinion piece about her decision for The Sun. “And who wants to be the first to make that change?”
Niké, a co-founder of the Stop Erasing Black Women collective who asked to use a pseudonym for fear of harassment, told Insider, told Insider that the casting directors for the series need to choose contestants who are interested in women who don’t fit the “Eurocentric beauty standard.”
“The ideal for what is conceived as beautiful by ‘Love Island’ if you were to look at ‘Love Island UK’ is just so narrow and so eurocentric that it excludes, whether they mean to or not, a wide variety of people like myself,” she said.
“It’s all well and good having diverse faces, but if you’re not including them in the actual process by making sure there are people on the show who are also open-minded in terms of what they deem beautiful then you’ve not done your job properly,” Niké, who’s been a “Love Island” fan since its first season in 2015, continued. “There’s no point in having diversity if you don’t also have inclusion.”
‘Love Island USA’ has not been perfect, but its third season treats Black women better than ‘Love Island UK.’
Niké recently explained in an opinion article for The Metro why she switched from watching “Love Island UK” to “Love Island USA,” CBS’ version of the hit UK series, highlighting the original series’ treatment of its Black female contestants, especially Kaz Kamwi from this year’s season.
Like previous Black women on the series, Kamwi was last to be picked in the first opportunity to form couples and struggled to form a connection with any of the men in the villa because she wasn’t their “type.”
Niké said that she was already “more mindful” of TV shows she watched in order to “maintain” her mental health after the tragic death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was murdered by a former police officer Derek Chauvin, last year.
“I don’t want to turn on my TV unless I’m watching the news and see the s—y reality that I know can exist for some Black woman,” Niké said.
The final straw came when she found out that ITV allowed Kamwi to go on a date with a white contestant, Danny Bibby, after it had been revealed on Twitter that Bibby had used a racial slur on social media. Despite “Love Island” receiving over 1000 complaints to the UK’s media regulator, Ofcom, Bibby was allowed to apologize from inside the villa and stay on the series until he was eventually voted out.
Niké told Insider that she was shocked that on “Love Island USA” not only were there multiple Black female contestants, but they were also the first option for contestants rather than the last.
“Black women were being active participants in the show because the producers had done better in their casting choices of men,” Niké said. “They’ve been able to give me, a Black woman, a show that I think Black women deserve and would like.”
A spokesperson for ITV told Insider said the series makes an effort to cast in a way that reflects their audience.
“When casting for ‘Love Island,’ we always strive to reflect the age, experiences, and diversity of our audience and this year is no exception with a cross section of different personalities and backgrounds in the villa,” the statement read.
‘Love Island’ risks falling behind other dating shows if they don’t fix this issue, critics said.
“Love Island UK” risks losing its popularity if it isn’t able to adapt and make a true and comprehensive effort toward diversity.
Septimus Prime, a 23-year-old popular Black Twitter user who live tweets “Love Island UK,” told Insider that after the resurgence of Black Lives Matter last summer, viewers “aren’t silent anymore.”
“They can hear the fans crying for Black people so why aren’t they listening?” Prime, whose birth name is Septimus Kamara, asked rhetorically. “For some reason, when it comes to models and good-looking people, they literally go for white women and mixed-race men and they don’t include as many Black women as they should be.”
“ITV really runs the risk of their show, once being on the vanguard of reality TV and now being left behind,” Niké added. “It just looks like their approach to diversity is very tokenistic … it’s dire across the board.”
If contestants, like Gaffka, can go into the villa and not feel like there was anyone interested in her, then what purpose to the show do they truly serve?
Matters of love can never be entirely fair, but people of color can and should be given a fighting chance.