Alexandra the Queen (Why this Weekend I'm backing Alexandra!)
Back in 2010 I wrote Produced and Directed a show called “Brides and Prejudice” about Single Black Women and the perceptions of them in the media. The show aired on a Black Entertainment Channel on Sky called OH TV, Sky 199 .
In the trailer a single Black woman is soul searching her reasons for not finding a man and heard to ask “Am I too romantic?, “ Am I too sexy?... “ Am I too… Independent?” The woman is shown "left on the shelf" seemingly she is to blame for her plight as being un-loveable and unwanted.
It is a truth universally acknowledged...
“Brides and Prejudice” tackled the topic of diversity and relationships and aired in 2010. Back then we were used to not seeing many examples of black women on TV and it was no surprise that when we saw them they were usually boxed into stereotypes.
Jane Austen once wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledge that a man of good fortune must surely be in want of a wife." However it is also a universally acknowledged truth that black women of good looks, good talent and in the public eye must be seen to be humble and know their place. It soon became clear to me that this old fashioned way of thinking had not entirely gone away and had reared it's ugly head on BBC TV.
Fastforward seven years on from that show and I’m watching the talented, vivacious and athletic X-Factor Winner, Alexandra Burke, killing it again with a fantastic Charleston routine with her partner Gorka Marquez on the BBC 1 primetime Juggernaut Strictly Come Dancing.
Alexandra Burke’s performance to "Supercalifragilistic" was exactly that. Fast footwork, kicks, flips, endless energy and even Judge Revel-Horwood had to admit, “Your swivels are even better than Gorker’s dahling”! And yet there she was, for the second week running, down in the Dance Off!
As a black woman myself I have long been brought up with the knowledge that I had to be ten times as good as the next person to get ahead - in business, in school, in life. However to see someone as clearly talented and high profile as Alexandra in that same position in 2017 ironically in a “reality” TV show really made me think.
Wasn't this the same hideously uneven playing field again. Was she too sexy? Too emotional, too good too soon?
Previously Alexandra had slayed the opposition with her detailed and steamy Salsa and that fantastic and feel good Jive as early as week 4. Still online voices felt the need to draw attention to the fact that she cried when praised or given high scores as if she should be arrogant and "As if she doesn't know she's good? Why should she? She's never danced Ballroom or Latin before and never been on the show before.
When she started receiving 10s, that too was seen as a problem. "Couldn't she just make a mistake and get booted out?" One Twitter troll lamented!
So did Alexandra peak too soon, or is there a problem with people's expectations of women, in particular black women, in the Media? Should we all just play nice and quietly, not enjoy ourselves too much, or be too loud or too confident?
Alexandra's routines have been marked down on several occasions and she is doing more then many of her peers but maybe her journey on Strictly was always destined to beat the same path as so many other black contestants on reality TV?
For someone who has only recently lost her mother Alexandra Burke’s Jive performance is even more remarkable. How is she able to do that, I wonder? I suppose she can only be channeling her grief and energy into the dance in a bid to distract herself from the realities of her sad loss.
And yet some people in the media, online and even it seems on the set of Strictly itself seem keen to highlight Alexandra’s flaws as being "emotional" in an attempt to drag her down further and perhaps get more attention for themselves online.
"Why is she always crying?" they ask. "How can she possibly not believe how good she is?" "Her tears are fake." She's not wiping anything away." These nasty comments say more about the people trolling the star then Burke herself and it seems that even the press with their bully boy tactics are wading in.
"Stories" resurface about comments she made seven years ago on TV and supposed backstage feuds appear to paint her as the proverbial, "black bitch." The only problem being no one including her colleagues and dance partner want to back up those stories. The people leaking the "headline news" are nowhere to be seen, but sadly mud sticks.
Is becoming upset or having a “meltdown” when you’re in the bottom two again, really “news”? As a creative I don’t believe it is. Many creative people are hardworking, perfectionists and fiery! They want to do well and they care. Thank God for those people who do push boundaries and who DO NOT SETTLE! Thank God Alexandra cares enough to work hard and treat us to these great performances week after week.
When you add all Alexandra’s achievements to the fact that no one else on the show has had to endure this level of criticism if really makes me question how enlightened people really are towards race and talent in the entertainment industry. This Campaign of spite has been really remarkable for a wholesome show like “Strictly”.
Alexandra “haters” cite the fact that Alexandra Burke has “appeared in musicals” and yet they fail to mention that Sister Act and The Bodyguard did not feature Latin or Ballroom in either. In addition to this the actor Joe McFadden has previously appeared in Rent and Chitty Chitty Bang and we’re supposed to simply marvel at his unbelievable performance, skill and improvement. Molly King lovely though she is, is from girl band The Saturdays and yet we never hear how much extra experience she has in her day job. Instead we are fed the “she’s done three hundred hours of rehearsal” line. Personally, I believe all the dancers in the Semi-Final are committed and telling me how many hours you rehearsed one dance just makes me wonder how you will keep that up when required to do two or even three dances in the final! Debbie McGee at 59 is a fine example of fitness and flexibility and even though troll persist in reminding whoever will listen about her ballet training. But even that pales into insignificance when compared to what Alexandra has been exposed to.
People say “we just don’t warm to her,” and they “just can’t put their finger on why?” Well I have a few ideas why and I’d suggest it’s mainly down to a mixture of the stories circulated and their own limiting beliefs about what is natural and unnatural behaviour in women.
People state they want "someone likeable" to win. What makes someone likeable? Can't passion, dedication and talent be likeable? Or do we really want another Chris Hollinsworth (lovely but average) Strictly Winner?
Fake or Real?
Alexandra’s “haters” say she is “fake” for expressing emotion when she has only recently lost her mother and also when everything you have ever seen of Alexandra – including her win on X-Factor -shows her to be an emotional girl. It seems to me that black women are not supposed to show emotion. Unless of course it’s emotion deemed acceptable to certain members of the British public. We’re allowed to be comical and bubbly like the adorable Chizzy Akodulu but not so confident that we inspire envy amongst others and actually might want to win.
As both a feminist and a lover of dance, I am tired of seeing a talented woman, quick to pick up routines clearly incredibly passionate about dance being boxed in and vilified for it. There’s nothing wrong with caring, wearing your heart on your sleeve and being good at what you do.
Also when it comes to emotion why should she tone it down? Is it seriously all about “stiff upper lip”? And if so why? Black culture is not known for playing small and why should Alexandra have to change her behaviour? How does that serve the show or even Diversity which the BBC professes to care so much about? With Chizzy Akodulu, Aston Merrygold, and Oti Mabuse also out of the picture will Alexandra now be under pressure to hide her real emotions and if so is this not MORE fake then her just being her natural self?
The Strictly experience will be over in two weeks and all this drama will just be a memory. So called newspapers like “The Sun” and the “Daily Mail” who reported Alexandra’s “furious” arguments with her dance partner Gorka Markez (who recently went on record as saying how much “fun” they have together during rehearsals and how she “makes his life easy”) will be clamouring for interviews and then we'll see who's fake and who's real. I for one hopes she tells them where to go.
Having looked at Alexandra and Gorka’s performances thus far it’s clear to me that a Strictly final would not be worth watching without Alexandra and Gorka in it. They have brought fire and excitement to this year’s show and we they audience would be the poorer without it.
Yes Alexandra Burke is a great dancer and makes it LOOK effortless and natural but does that mean that it IS effortless or that she did not work hard to make it look so, and therefore should NOT win the show? Strictly cannot have an entire show of people who lack musicality and struggle to improve until Semi Final week. I for one wouldn’t still be watching if that were the case and the BBC wouldn’t have a series. Reality TV needs a good mix for it to be watchable TV.
Having said that, Oti Mabuse choreographed and danced some amazing routines with her partner Danny Mac in Strictly 2016. By rights they should have definitely walked off with the title and yet they were cruelly pipped at the post by a late bloomer.
So this Saturday, will you sit back and watch another travesty happen again? I know what I'll be doing. Standing up for the Queen!
Michelle Brooks is a Writer, Producer and Founder of Production Company @ShowpatrolUK She has featured in the TV Documentaries “Brides and Prejudice”, “Why Should I Get Married?” and Produced the TV Series “Black Women in the Media” which received 9.2 million views when it streamed online.