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PREVIEW: Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop And Power, BBC One

This powerful one-off documentary follows pop star Leigh-Anne Pinnock as she confronts her experience as the only black member of Little Mix, and as a black woman in the music industry.

Leigh-Anne talks about the racism she has experienced growing up. Both her parents are of Caribbean heritage, and Leigh-Anne identifies as black. She is also aware that having lighter skin and being a celebrity means she is in a more privileged position than others.

Leigh-Anne embarks on her own very personal journey to understand how she can use her platform and privilege to combat the profound racism she sees in society around her. After she takes on this, her biggest and most important mission yet, news of George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protests begin to sweep the world. With the force of a global movement now behind her, Leigh-Anne confronts those closest to her and attempts to bring difficult conversations about black representation right to the top of the music industry.

With no-holds-barred access to one third of the world’s biggest girl band, we join Leigh-Anne with her Little Mix bandmates behind the scenes, at home with her professional footballer fiancée Andre Gray and with fellow pop stars, politicians and podcasters as she opens up an all-important conversation about race. Leigh-Anne takes a look at the complexities and impact of unconscious bias, racial stereotyping and colourism both in and away from the public eye.

Since winning X-Factor, Leigh-Anne has often felt like she is treated differently; and now she is wondering whether years of feeling ignored at signings, not hearing her name cheered at events, and fans walking past her in favour of the other girls in the band may be down to her race. To understand her experience she contacts Beyonce’s Creative Director Frank Gatson whose words on their first video rehearsal nearly a decade ago, "you’re the black girl, you have to work ten times harder", have stuck with her ever since.

In an emotional scene with her parents, we see how they first reacted when Leigh-Anne told them how she had been feeling as the black member of the band. Leigh-Anne’s dad John recalls, "at the time I thought to myself, Leigh-Anne, toughen up, get yourself together, you’re in a good position, get on with it, don’t moan about it", but her parents attitudes have changed as they have seen the effect the experience has had on their daughter over the years with her mum commenting, ‘you can use your voice and your experiences to help other people and to let other people know, things are going to change.’

Pulling together a group of black and mixed-race pop royalty for a round table discussion that’s almost like therapy, Leigh-Anne compares experiences with Alexandra Burke, NAO, Raye and Keisha Buchanan from the Sugababes. In turn, each artist reveals their own shocking experiences within the music industry because of the colour of their skin. When discussing colourism, Leigh-Anne is forced to confront the uncomfortable question, "if I was dark skinned, would I be in Little Mix?"

If Leigh-Anne is going to ask difficult questions of the world around her, she needs to do the same at home. In 2012, Andre Gray, Leigh-Anne’s footballer fiancée wrote a series of offensive tweets, some of which were about black women. Leigh-Anne confronts Andre about these tweets and tries to understand what led him as a younger man to think such abhorrent things.

Putting your head above the parapet isn’t easy and Leigh-Anne starts to receive criticism from all angles. She seeks advice on how to handle this backlash from MP Dawn Butler, who herself has faced horrific racial abuse throughout her career. Dawn pushes her to carry on, "when the history books are written, people have got to ask themselves, what’s going to be said next to your name."

During Leigh-Anne’s appearance on the Trilly Trio podcast, the subject of Leigh-Anne’s immediate working world comes up, she reveals: "I walk into work and there’s no black people, and that has been that way my whole career, I just haven’t noticed it, it’s my normal!" The podcasters throw down the gauntlet for her, "do you feel you have the confidence now to have a conversation with your record label, what’s management really doing to emphasise Black Lives Matter?"

Leigh-Anne decides she must confront her label about what they are doing to make positive change. But meeting them on camera to join forces to work together going forwards is going to be harder than she imagined.

Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop And Power airs Thursday 13th May at 9pm on BBC One.

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