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Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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Leigh-Anne Pinnock: Race, Pop and Power Review

Leigh-Anne Pinnock was just twenty years old when Little Mix became the first female group to win the X-Factor UK. Almost overnight, she went from waiting tables at Pizza Hut to performing on stages like the O2 and Wembley Arena, with thousands of girls screaming out her name. But away from the bright lights and booming speakers of some of music’s most iconic venues, she was battling a side of the industry that is normally kept under wraps. Race, Pop and Power is an exploration into the troubling subject of racism within the industry, which as we come to learn, is far larger than any hour-long documentary can do justice for. 


In 2019, former bandmate Jesy Nelson also offered a similarly presented story. She delivered the critically acclaimed documentary Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out, which explored the effects of trolling and mental health on women and young people. Receiving praise for its candid and matter-of-fact approach, it was the first in an ongoing wave of celebrity-hosted documentaries which have come to land in our living rooms. And eighteen months on, Race, Pop and Power could not have come at a more poignant or relevant time. Filmed last year amidst the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement, the documentary re-opens wounds that many have not yet healed from. But that’s what makes this documentary even more significant.


Born of Bajan and Jamaican ancestry, Pinnock is exploring this subject from a powerful first-person perspective. She explains how during the early days of Little Mix, she was stylised to suit the stereotypical “black girl” character – with a shaven head on X-Factor and later, dressed in an urban and edgy style. “Looking back, it was clear to see that my colour was being used to define my image within the group,” she comments – a statement that joins the dots for those who may have unconsciously observed this situation in real-time. And we’ve seen this scenario play out before. Over two decades ago, Scary Spice was also dressed to suit a similar ideology, marking her as the woman of colour within the all-white group. But as this scene shows, it seems that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 


We quickly come to learn that the underlying premise of this documentary – to demand change for black creatives and musicians within the industry – was something that took time for Pinnock to process. She speaks of several situations throughout her decade long career where she has felt overlooked and under-represented by audiences, record execs, and top-level industry moguls. In one heart-breaking clip, she recalls a time where the group were met by several of their fans, yet they pushed past Leigh-Anne to speak to Jesy, Perrie and Jade instead. This is just one of the scenarios that Pinnock bravely opens up about, but her march for the BLM Movement in London raised another interesting point. 


Standing in solidarity with other men and women, she speaks to three fellow attendees who ask her to use her platform and privilege as a lighter-skinned star to evoke change in any way that she can. Identifying as a black woman, rather than one of mixed race or heritage, Leigh-Anne seemed to take this slightly to heart. Speaking online during the movement, many were quick to criticise Pinnock for not being dark enough to warrant such commentary and platform. The term “lighter-skinned” is something that continues to bubble beneath the surface throughout the rest of this documentary, particularly in her meeting with Alexandra Burke, Keisha Buchanan, RAYE and Nao.


Discussing their experiences as young, black women within the music industry, the stories that emerge tell a deeper and darker tale. Throughout their careers, these five women have felt undermined, repressed, and misrepresented; their stories all echoing one another’s sentiments. And there’s something so powerful about this scene that as a viewer, made me realise my own naivety towards systemic racism in the industry. When Pinnock asks whether she would be in Little Mix had she been born a few shades darker, former Sugarbabe Keisha had to awkwardly tell Leigh-Anne no. Colourism within the industry is another aspect of racism that has touched so many artists past and present. 


So when Leigh-Anne’s attempts to meet with her label are rejected, or rather, downplayed to meet with a fellow woman of colour, rather than the white exec, her frustration towards the situation is palpable, and rightfully so. As a viewer, you feel it too. “It’s almost like, ‘OK, let’s put two black people in a room to solve the issue of racism.’ She says with a defeated tone in her voice and an exasperated shrug. “I’m so sick of seeing people seeing it as ‘ooh, I can’t say that”…’, come on, let’s just do it. There’s a problem, let’s address it together.” She sighs, before casually commenting, “well, that’s me dropped from the label,” with a slight laugh.


Previously, women in groups like Little Mix would have had their opinions swept under the carpet; their stories silenced by those from above. But it seems that in this new era of celebrity, the BBC, who have released several documentaries on similar subjects over the last twelve months, are adamant to let these voices be heard. Examining complex societal issues and exposing an underlying prejudice within the industry, it delivers the message that change needs to come – something that Pinnock is already making within her and the group’s close team. Her charity, The Black Fund, has been set up to raise finances for under-represented black creatives, helping and allowing them to enter the predominantly white creative industries. 


Whilst Race, Pop and Power asks more questions than it’s able to concisely answer, it offers valuable insight into what goes on behind the stage curtain. 



Words by Issy Aldridge

Posted On 4 October, 2022