Why Our Expectations For Love Island Nigeria Aren’t Sky High
Season 1 begins in October
Season 1 begins in October
Last month, the wait for Love Island Nigeria finally seemed to be drawing to a close. Shortly after Love Island UK kicked off its seventh season, the official Instagram account for the latest African spinoff teased the first tell-all sign that the reality tv show would soon be landing firmly on our (murky) shores with a media event. Now, officially set to arrive towards the end of the year in October on MTV Base, the reality dating show will run for seven weeks within which 20 contestants will battle for the cash prize and a chance at finding their Harmattan-time romance.
Naturally, viewers of the reality show, many of whom are Black and within the African continent or the diaspora at large, have already expressed their interest in tuning in to the new Nigerian iteration. For many of them, this motivation is fuelled by the constant churning of reality dating show content that streaming platforms have subjected viewers to in the past few years. While our generation is undoubtedly nursing more commitment issues than ever before, it seems that we can’t get enough of it on our TV screens.
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The anticipation for the new show is offset, however, by the underlying fear that the latest iteration of the reality dating series would once again fail to meet up to viewers’ expectations after years of television networks getting it painfully wrong. There’s no denying that reality TV shows, particularly dating shows, have long been critiqued for being overwhelmingly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fatphobic, and ableist. When narrowed down to Love Island specifically, these issues are even more fraught when you take into account the fact that ITV has received criticism for their lack of diversity every season since the show first aired over six years ago. In response, the UK-based television network has always reiterated that they are “committed to diversity” and anti-bullying.
However, year after year, viewers see Black contestants go into the villa and leave with no love and a boatload of trauma from dealing with racial microaggressions. There’s a lot to be said about a reality dating show that constantly refuses to honour the diverse multitude of contestants that apply for their shows and the multifaceted viewership that tune in weekly, disappointed yet again that their experiences aren’t shown on mainstream television. Despite this, Love Island remains one of the biggest reality dating show franchises globally with over 21 spinoffs in different locations around the world and over 3.3 million viewers. So what is it about the show that has people willing to look past the gross ways in which Black contestants are treated?
Earlier this year, the first African iteration of the show began in South Africa, one of the most populous Black nations in the world and fans were eagerly awaiting a diverse Black cast given that the show was set on our own turf. Yet ITV and their local partners, M-Net failed to leave any lasting impressions as they dropped the ball yet again on what could have been a landmark moment for reality television. In the first few weeks of airing, viewers on the continent and in the diaspora, wasted no time in calling out the show’s producers for failing to begin the season with any visibly dark-skinned Black contestants in a Black nation. Although producers reassured viewers that more Black contestants would be making their way into the villa within the subsequent episodes, that erroneous move was enough to drastically reduce their viewership and be written off by many potential viewers.
As we stated earlier, it’s one thing to experience this gross lack of representation in a place on the main UK or US franchise, but on your own turf, in your own continent, country, and city, where most people look like you, that feeling hits different. The issue is when you only have the token Black character on any given show, there is a possibility to place weighty unfair expectations on them to become the patron saint and poster child for all Black people or on how Black love should be represented on screen. Indeed, recently, we did see ex-Love Island contestant Mike Boateng explain that he felt pressured to perform ‘Black love’ on screen and after the show. However, in a country where the majority of its citizens are Black, this expectation to act as the token Black couple would be eliminated simply because most people are dark-skinned. However, Love Island South Africa couldn’t have been farther from this.
It is in this climate that the latest Nigerian spinoff finds itself about to operate within. Given how much we know about the colourism within the country, and the way that lighter skin is treated better or superior to darker skin, it’s not hard to see why the expectations for the show aren’t sky high. Nigeria is the most populous Black nation on earth and the producers will need to go a long way to show that they are ready to immerse themselves fully within millennial and Gen Z culture in the country and that includes championing contestants that look, dress and talk like the average young Nigerian.
Luckily, in Nigeria, there is a reference point for any reality shows looking to penetrate the mainstream entertainment market: Big Brother Naija. The locally produced reality television show has become a huge spectacle within the country, spurring loyal stans dedicating to fighting for their stars’ honour, pseudo-celebrities and memorable reunion shows. Over the years and with six seasons in, the show has become the blueprint for any reality television shows coming into the country after managing to sustain continued nationwide viewership. With a reported audience of 309 million viewers from around the continent, according to DSTV media sales figures, it has become one of the most viewed entertainment shows in the country. And it’s as representative of Nigerian culture as they come. All tribes, all people, all skin colours—albeit not all genders or sexuality types.
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The premiere season of Love Island Nigeria might also coincide with the seventh season of Big Brother Naija which is rumoured to be out later this year following the close of the reunion show this past week. As such, Love Island Nigeria may find itself struggling to gain the views of audiences within the country and the diaspora when there’s concurrently a show running that accurately represents Nigerian people and their culture. To this end, the producers of Love Island will need to find newer ways to break into this market and remain innovative. That would include, but not be restricted to, at least getting the casting right.
Love Island Nigeria is already being described as the first all-Black Love Island show ever and that detail is not lost on any of us. As more teasers, clips and first-looks are released in the run-up to the season premiere in October, the whole of Nigeria (and her diaspora) will be waiting with bated breath to see how M-Net and Multichoice conduct things this time around. All roads lead to October.
Featured image credits/NATIVE