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Nella, Tanya, Trish: The black woman as the instigator in UK reality TV

After a confrontation with fan-favourite and national treasure Fred Sirioux, Youtuber and presenter Nella Rose quickly became the most controversial campmate of 2023’s ‘I’m A Celebrity’ jungle. While many defended Rose, she was also labelled as being aggressive and eruptive. An overwhelming amount of racial hate speech and online trolling fueled support for her fellow campmate, Nigel Farage, a popular figure amongst far-right groups. And whilst there may have been a miscommunication that resulted in a potentially disproportionate reaction from Nella, this portrayal is damagingly affirming for these biased audiences who have likely become accustomed to seeing black women in the role of the instigator this year on reality TV.


Tanya Manhega became one of the most hated female Love Island contestants of all time during the 2023 winter season. Manhega did what some male winners of the show have done in the past and recoupled with someone in Casa Amour, leaving her previous partner Shaq devastated. She was the ultimate Love Island villain, creating fantastic and unpredictable TV, but also received a swathe of racist online hate during her stay in the villa. She placed fourth in the show and left the villa being perceived as the heartless and toxic female villain of the series. However, this was the start of a worrying trend, as she was soon joined by Nella Rose and a controversial Big Brother housemate.

Trish Balusa entered the Big Brother reboot in October 2023 and became an instant fan favourite. She proclaimed herself a proud immigrant upon her entry to the house, and vocalized her motivation to represent the Congolese community. She bonded well with her fellow housemates, and the first few weeks were relatively positive for Balusa. It was two white male housemates in Week 3 who decided that Balusa’s opinionated and strong-willed personality was something of a threat, and began to brand her as the stereotypical ‘aggressive’ black woman seen on TV and film for years. She was labelled as such for simply standing up for herself and her fellow housemates in a confrontation with Paul Blackburn. She was seen by Blackburn and a handful of other housemates as a cruel and domineering villain, and received just as much trolling online as she did overwhelming love and support. Her shock eviction, moments after a ‘Trish for the win’ chant was heard from the crow, caused shockwaves. I’m still not over it.


It was what followed after Balusa’s eviction that cemented her as the unexpected villain of the series. Cancelled just days after her eviction for shockingly bigoted tweets, fans were disappointed and her haters' feelings were affirmed. She issued an apology on twitter, widely well-received by those who felt offended by her old tweets. It was an unusually reflective and amenable response to the disappointing and uncharacteristic tweets that had been exposed, she held herself accountable by acknowledging her past. ITV banned Balusa from appearing on Late & Live, and the final—denying her a chance to address or move on from the scandal—in a sort of blacklisting.


So, why was Trish banned by ITV, while known bigot Nigel Farage was endorsed and even paid (reportedly £1.5 million) to appear on our screens in the latest I’m A Celebrity series? Farage’s time in the jungle has seen him debate with fellow campmate Nella Rose about cultural appropriation and immigration, with hosts Ant & Dec praising the pair on how they have been able to just ‘discuss’ their differences, without it becoming an ‘argument’. So why has Farage been granted this ability to speak his mind, but Trish has been silenced and defamed even after issuing an apology? And why have these black women been constantly mistreated by both audiences and producers alike?

Nella was voted out second in the series, and admitted she was in there to “stir the pot”- so was this role self-induced? Many will argue that these women brought this representation upon themselves, with their behaviours causing their portrayals. Whilst partly true, we need to recognise that those who act in a similar manner, who tend to be of a different gender or race, are treated differently by producers, editors, and audiences alike. In Balusa’s case, it was her co-stars who pushed this false narrative and frustrating depiction, along with the producers who blacklisted her for her past, whilst platforming and endorsing a present-day bigot. Producers often frame characters like Farage, or last year’s campmate Matt Hancock, as comedic and worthy of a voice, but personalities like Rose and Balusa are silenced or diluted in fears of being labelled ‘aggressive’.


Whilst involved in conflict, why is it the black woman who is consistently framed as the instigator in an uncomfortable pattern of events this year in reality TV? The opposing character, who is often white or male, is given grace for their behaviours by producers and audiences. These characters are often the aggressor, but are seemingly immune to being described as such. These three women have been made into scapegoats; they are victims of racial profiling at the hands of co-stars, producers and viewers in a worrying trend that is unfortunately nothing new for those who have been historically misrepresented in all forms of media.


Words: Henry Clarke, he/him

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