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Comic Relief announces move away from celebrity-led appeal films

Comic Relief announces move away from celebrity-led appeal films

Comic Relief is changing its approach in a move that will see it stop sending celebrities to Africa for its , and instead use local people to tell their own stories with the help of local film makers and photographers.

All new African appeal films for Red Nose Day 2021 will employ this new approach. The move follows criticism of some charities’ appeal films, including those of Comic Relief, reinforcing ‘white saviour’ stereotypes by fronting them with celebrities. It is part of the charity’s commitment to shifting the narrative in its to reflect its audiences’ greater awareness of issues and to empower and provide a platform for local leaders and communities to lead their own stories.


New storytelling guidelines

Comic Relief is now finalising its new storytelling guidelines with key changes set to include:

  • Local film makers will direct all new African films for Red Nose Day 2021: employing local film makers gives viewers a closer, authentic look at the heart of issues directly from affected communities.
  • Switching the spotlight: project workers, doctors, teachers, parents and local members of the community will lead their own international stories, giving audiences into grassroots level with international appeal films.
  • Working with media organisations across Africa: not just on appeal films but also on a range of creative projects outside of appeals by raising awareness of wider narratives across the continent. This includes a series of short films made by African filmmakers launching today – the Sema’s Stori project.
  • Commitment to a long-term plan: to make every aspect of production, film making and editing behind the camera is more diverse and inclusive.

High profile supporters will not be sent to international project visits next year, and Comic Relief says that in future years if the charity were to consider inviting celebrities to international projects it would only be if films and narratives continued to be fully led by local people. The charity will continue to work on high profile celebrity challenges in the UK and across the globe, which have often focused on extreme physical feats like mountain climbing , desert trekking and marathons, while its high profile supporters will also help present Red Nose Day shows on the night.

Ruth Davison, Chief Executive of Comic Relief, said:

“Over the last 30 years, our international appeals have helped us raise over £1.4bn and we are immensely grateful. We know times are changing rapidly now and we need to modernise our approaches internationally to give local communities the opportunity to lead their stories. We’ve listened to communities, our peers, critics and supporters and I’m proud to be leading the charity at this exciting time as we develop our approaches and shift the power. I hope audiences will see that by investing in wider creative partnership across Africa our films will be more authentic and engaging than ever.”


Furthering diversity & equality

The charity also launches a series of online discussions today (28 October) which aim to explore better ways to work across charity and creative sectors to support Black and ethnic minority communities and address inequalities. 



Sir Lenny Henry, Comic Relief Honorary Life President and co-founder, and June Sarpong OBE, Creative Director of Diversity, will lead the opening event with a special discussion around changes in the creative industry, hosted by Charlene White, News broadcaster. At the event Sir Lenny Henry will discuss Comic Relief’s journey and changes with international appeal films to reflect both modern audiences and modern Africa.

He will also mention Comic Relief using its streams for the first time to address racial inequalities by investing nearly £6 million in Black-led and minority-led organisations across the UK. After recent reports showed the disproportionate effects of on Black and minority ethnic communities, Comic Relief launched a new fund to reach small grassroots charities helping minority communities in partnership with the National Emergencies (NET). Due to the response a second round, alongside NET and Clothworkers Foundation, is set to be launched next week.

Sir Lenny Henry, said:

“Diversity and inclusion is important both in front and behind the camera. Times have changed and society has evolved, and we must evolve too. African people don’t want us to tell their stories for them, what they need is more agency, a platform and partnership. I have seen first-hand what it means for African communities to see someone who looks just like them in charge of directing films.  I am so glad that Comic Relief has listened and put in the work to develop its appeal films and deliver greater representation as they continue to raise millions for people in poverty around the world.”

The second part of today’s opening online event will include an international panel discussion on ethical filmmaking, and premier with an exclusive first look at three new African-led films produced through Comic Relief’s Sema Stori Initiative delivered in partnership with Docubox, East Africa’s only film funder, owned and run by African film makers. The project worked with 10 up and coming African film makers on a series of short films exploring issues through the eyes of local communities. 

Josh Kisamwa, filmmaker, said:

“As a Kenyan filmmaker there are very few opportunities, but through this programme I was able to create something that I feel is very important. I love that instead of sending a crew to make a piece, Sema Stori supported me, because I am a firm believer in Africans documenting Africa for Africans. It is extremely crucial that we start telling the continent’s stories ourselves because I feel it’s more authentic and it is our reality.”


Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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