Winning the X Factor as part of Little Mix was a dream come true for Leigh-Anne Pinnock, but she quickly received a wake-up call.
She was on the set of her first video rehearsal when Beyonce’s creative director Frank Gatson told her “you’re the black girl, you have to work 10 times harder.”
It’s a remark that has stayed with her.
Now in the documentary Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power, she’s exploring her experiences of racism and what it’s like to be a black woman in the music industry, while also addressing some wider issues around unconscious bias and colourism.
Leigh-Anne, whose parents are of Caribbean heritage, says: “I want to make this film because I have always been passionate about rights for black people.
“Conversations surrounding racism and colourism are something I constantly have with my boyfriend and family, and as I have a platform, I want to use that platform to bring this conversation to a wider audience and stand up for my black and brown community.”
She adds: “Systemic racism is complex; through making this documentary I want to learn how I can best lend my voice to the debate so that the young people who look up to me won’t have to face what me and my generation have had to.”
Leigh-Anne talks about her own experiences of feeling like she was treated differently to her Little Mix bandmates, asking whether she was ignored at signings and if fans failed to chant her name because of her race.
She brings together a group of black and mixed-race pop royalty for a round-table discussion, comparing stories with Alexandra Burke, NAO, Raye and Keisha Buchanan from the Sugababes.
Despite the racism she has encountered, Leigh-Anne knows that her lighter skin and celebrity status mean that to many, she will be seen as privileged.
In the documentary, she explores the nature of colourism, asking the difficult question: “If I was dark skinned, would I be in Little Mix?”
She’s also asking how she can best use the platform her fame has given her, but realises that putting her head above the parapet can be difficult.
The popstar speaks to MP Dawn Butler, who herself has faced horrific racial abuse throughout her career, about how to handle the backlash.
Leigh-Anne also realises that if she’s going to be asking difficult questions of the world around her, she needs to do the same at home.
So, she talks to her footballer fiancé Andre Gray about a series of offensive tweets he wrote in 2012, some of which were about black women, and tries to understand what led him to think such things.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Leigh-Anne comes when, following an appearance on the Trilly Trio podcast, she prepares to speak to her label about what they are doing to make positive changes. However, meeting them on camera to talk about joining forces may be harder than she imagined.
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