No one can deny that Ovie Soko has become one of the biggest sensations of this year’s Love Island and fans are calling for him to win.
While some have fallen in love with the basketball player’s height and others simply think he’s pure eye candy, these aren’t the only factors leading to his success in the villa.
Ovie’s quirky personality has turned the stereotype of the aggressive black male on its head.
He is compassionate, calm, non-violent, friendly and funny – not the aggressive, knife-wielding narrative the media has been pushing out for decades.
This is a man who broke down in tears after his friend George was voted off the show. When Anna dumped him to recouple with Jordan, he handled the situation gracefully and calmly.
Both responses are a world away from the aggressive, often criminal stereotypes we’re so used to seeing black men portrayed as. Ovie has showed he was not afraid of showing emotion and by making himself vulnerable on TV, the nation warmed to him even more.
Oh, and how about his random outbreaks of dancing in the lad’s bedroom when nobody else is there? Or the hilarious and random conversations he has with himself? Or maybe even his ‘quirky’ fashion sense (who knew bucket hats could become so stylish again?)
All of that and more has led to Ovie becoming a national treasure with memes of him going viral on Twitter every single day. But most importantly, what we are seeing is a more realistic and common representation of your average black male in society today.
I’m not overreacting about this narrative. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2017, people see black men as more threatening than similarly sized white men, which further encourages racial bias In the work place, in the media and in society overall.
Unemployment and unwarranted stop-and-searches are just some of the consequences of these damaging stereotypes. Black male graduates are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed, according ONS figures.
According to figures published by The Colour of Injustice last year, Black males in England and Wales are now stopped and searched for any reason at 8.4 times the rate of whites. In addition, Metropolitan Police officers are four times more likely to use force against black people when stopping them.
As a black TV presenter myself, it’s extremely important to me that we see rounded portrayals of black men on national TV, showcasing another side to black masculinity.
Ovie is happy to showcase black culture in the villa too – for example, expressing his love for the traditionally Nigerian dish pepper soup and comfortably wearing durag indoors. And trust me, as someone who eats African food a lot myself, it can be a struggle trying to explain your pounded yam and fish lunch to some colleagues.
The more we see BME characters comfortably express themselves and their culture on national TV, the more we will see understanding and acceptance of different cultures. Young black men should also be able to turn on their TVs and see people who look like them and therefore provide aspirational, positive role models.
Off-screen diversity is equally important too: a 2017 study from diversity monitoring scheme Project Diamond revealed that just 10.5 per cent of behind-the-scenes teams were from BME backgrounds.
My argument isn’t that Ovie is the one and only positive black male role model in the UK because there are plenty more doing great things. Stormzy has become a pioneer in the music industry and has recently launched #Merky Books with Penguin to attract a new generation of diverse writers.
Cephas Williams, founder of the 56 Black Men campaign, is making strides in challenging the unfair stereotypes frequently levelled at black males.
Ovie’s personality is simply a great, and very public example, to the nation that black men aren’t violent or threatening. We do smile, we do have character and we can be quirky.
People who know me in real life or have seen me on TV or heard me on the radio will know I’m a pretty friendly guy. Yet even I have been stereotyped, stopped and searched and accused of trying to mug someone when I was only asking for directions. Little do they know I sing Britney Spears in the shower.
Hopefully Ovie’s example will have made a significant impact on what it is to be a young, black male in 2019, and all shows on British TV will reflect the diverse and multicultural society it serves.
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