As part of Little Mix, Leigh-Anne Pinnock has spent a decade enjoying top ten hits, packed stadiums and a glamorous lifestyle that goes with a top pop career. But away from the limelight, she’s always felt she’s been treated differently to her fellow band mates because of the colour of her skin and has lived with an underlying belief that she’s the least favourite amongst the group’s predominantly white fan base.
Now, following on from her fellow bandmate Jesy Nelson’s recent BBC Three documentary about online bullying, Leigh-Anne opens up about her own experiences of racism and explores the lack of diversity in the music industry.
She also meets fellow black female stars, including ex Sugababe Keisha Buchanan and Alexandra Burke, who admits she was encouraged to have skin lightening treatment during her early career.
Here, Leigh-Anne reveals why she wanted to make BBC3’s Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power and how she’s hoping to make a change…
Leigh-Anne Pinnock explains how she felt invisible in her early days with the band…
Leigh-Anne, 29, says: "I always felt people just looked past me, that I was the least favourite member of Little Mix. Winning The X Factor and becoming a pop star was all I’d ever wanted. But before we’d even signed a record deal things started to happen that now feel a bit off. Looking back it was clear my colour was being used to define my image within the group.
"My motivation for making this documentary was based on my own personal experiences and also because I think conversations about race are so needed. I wanted to educate myself and hopefully educate others, too. Also being a black girl in the pop industry with a predominantly white fan base I feel like I have a responsibility to speak out about this issue."
Leigh-Anne reveals how she had to educate herself on racism, unconscious bias and colourism...
"I always wanted to touch on colourism. Colourism is discrimination against people with darker skin and I think it’s something that isn’t addressed enough. I wanted to use this documentary to allow dark-skinned women to be a part and amplify their voices. Understanding my own privilege has always been important to me and something I touch on in the documentary is the idea that if I was some shades darker I might not even have been put in the group.
"I already struggled in the group, but I know if I was darker-skinned it would have been even worse and I think it’s really important that we addressed that in this film."
Leigh-Anne describes what it was like meeting black female music artists Alexandra Burke, Keisha Buchanan, Nao and Raye, and hearing their experiences of racism...
"It was amazing that we could all sit down in a room together and be so open and share our experiences. I’ve never really been able to do that with other black creatives before, so that was a real gamechanger. It was incredible to hear the similarities and differences in what we’ve been through. And it just goes to show that racism works in many different ways."
How Leigh-Anne’s Little Mix bandmates have supported her during the making of the documentary...
"My bandmates have been so supportive and I’m really lucky to have them. Being able to have your best friends with you all the time means that, even if they didn’t realise what was going on with me at the time, they were around to have a laugh and joke and it definitely took my mind off how I was feeling. I’ll always be thankful to them for that.
"Jade [Thirlwall] has been the person that I’ve really confided in throughout the years, as she’s mixed race herself. She’s always been someone that I’ve been able to turn to. It’s been really important to me to be able to speak to someone who gets it and reassures me that my feelings are valid."
Leigh-Anne explains the changes she wants to see in the music industry...
"The music industry is predominantly white, even though it’s fuelled by Hip Hop and R&B. The number one change I’d like to see in the music industry is greater diversity. It’s not diverse whatsoever. Even now I walk into work and there are no other black people and it’s been that way my whole career. There’s a lot of work to be done but a couple of years from now I want to be able to walk into work and see people of colour.
"I know that I have some sort of power and I’m using my power to say, ‘no, this is going to be my team, this is who I want to work with, you need to make sure this team is more diverse.’ And if everyone was able to do their part and speak up on that, I think we’d see a lot of change."
Leigh-Anne on what she hopes viewers will learn from her documentary...
"I hope it gives other people the courage to speak out and the motivation to be part of change. I’m so lucky to have an amazing fan base through Little Mix, but the fan base definitely skews young and white so I’m hoping that this will help them understand how important this issue is, not just to me, but in a wider societal sense too. If this documentary helps even one person, I’ll have done my job."
The Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power release date
The one-off 60-minute documentary will be shown on BBC3 from Thursday May 13 from 6am and then will become available on BBCIplayer. It will also likely be shown on BBC1 at a later date just as the BBC did with Jesy Nelson's BBC3 documentary Odd One Out (which is still available on BBCiPlayer).
More top factual shows to follow...
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I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.
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