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.
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[.]”
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.”
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.”
Variety's K.J. Yossman contributed to this post.