How great can a life get? Leigh-Anne Pinnock is gorgeous and gifted, owns a spectacular house, has a loving partner and, having spent the best part of 10 years as one quarter of the pop group Little Mix, has turned her love of fashion and music into a highly lucrative career.
She’s “so grateful for this crazy, rollercoaster life”. But the George Floyd murder crystallised uneasy feelings she’d been having for years. Why did the group’s primarily white fan base hardly ever pick her as their favourite member or cheer for her on the red carpet? Why did she feel invisible? Why, when she went into their record company, was everyone white? Why was she brusquely told, on their very first music video: “You’re the black girl, you’re going to have to work 10 times harder.” Why, from the outset of her career, when she was just a teenager, did things “[start] to happen that now feel a bit off”?
Her no-nonsense parents, also mixed-race, are her first port of call. “Leigh-Anne, toughen up”, was their mantra as she was growing up. She asks her half-Jamaican father about his race: “I identify as John Pinnock” is the stout reply. When Leigh-Anne posted a heartfelt and widely commended video in response to the Floyd case, intemperate responses from the likes of Tommy Robinson were only to be expected. People who refuse to grow, learn or change — racists — are not her concern. What hurt deeply were social media responses from the black community about her own pigmentation: “Lightskin privilege is real” said one. It was a shame, opined another, that the message didn’t come from someone “fully black”.
Vowing to use her privilege wisely involves more than making this touching and thoughtful documentary. Activists encountered on a Black Lives Matter march counsel her to educate herself, which she duly does, scribbling in notebooks while soaking up internet testimony. She rounds up former Sugababes singer Keisha Buchanan, Alexandra Burke, Nao and RAYE for a frank discussion about their own experiences in the music industry. On the issue of “colourism”, Leigh-Anne has to face the idea that she was ideal for the group because she was black . . . but not too black.
Former bandmate Jade Thirlwall, partly of Arab heritage but “white passing”, shares her own smarts over cocktails at the Shard. But a joint approach to the record company for a meeting on the issue of ethnic representation doesn’t quite go as planned. At least the conversation with the “10 times harder” choreographer proves more healing. Himself black, he simply wanted to give her “the secret”.
On BBC3 from May 13 at 9pm
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