Comment Editor Kat Smith takes a look into Reggie Yates’ most compelling investigations
I don’t remember seeing Reggie Yates on my TV for the first time. From his early CBBC appearances to his documentaries over the recent years, he has been an omnipresent feature in our generations viewing experiences. Covering topics spanning from life in a Texan jail to the ‘white slums’ of South Africa, Yates has immersed himself in many situations, cultures and horrors. In doing so, he has created a catalogue of insightful, emotive and, at times, haunting documentaries. Although all of them are fantastic, here is a list of what I consider to be his three very best:
Extreme UK: Gay and Under Attack
Focusing on the hostility met by those in the black and Asian communities when it comes to sexuality, this documentary provides a frustrating insight into homophobia in the UK. I firstly think it’s important that Reggie Yates doesn’t just create programmes about the extremities of views in other countries and cultures that we may find shocking as British viewers. He also acknowledges the extreme and problematic views many hold here in the UK. Yates’ Gay and Under Attack is a hard-hitting realisation that although we may have some of the progressive equality rights in the world, we are still a far cry from perfection. It’s astonishing to see how many people still believe that being gay is a choice.
One man, Sohail, recalls being told by his own mother that “If you murdered someone I’d still accept you. But you being gay – I can’t accept you for that.” Later seeing him loving his time at a pride event is a definite highlight of an otherwise heart-breaking documentary. Yates’ broadcast of these experiences is inspiring in the way it celebrates identity without undermining the adversity still faced in the gay and transgender communities. It’s saddening and quite frankly unbelievable that this was filmed only 2 years ago, but this close-to-home documentary is well worth the watch.
Extreme Russia: Teen Model Factory
As part of his series also covering the far-right views and homophobia in Russia, Yates delves into the savage world of teen modelling. And when I say ‘teen’, I mean girls as young as 13. It is another hard look into the lives of the girls who are having to parade in bikinis whilst still being school-age, the girls who eat buckwheat for all three meals in order to lose weight for a casting and the girls who are abandoning their dreams at such an early age in the pursuit of a ‘more fruitful’ career path. The documentary also shows modelling schools in Siberia, where even five-year-olds are in training.
It is an insightful yet saddening document that covers the many issues of teen modelling. It covers a wider message of the pressure we put on young people to look a certain way, the intrinsic wrongness of sexualising underage girls and the financial difficulties that lead parents to support their daughters in this career path. I loved this documentary in spite of how angry it made me because it gave a voice to every party: the child, the parents and the people photographing/commissioning the teen models.
The Insider: A Week in a Toxic Waste Dump
With the attitude that you have to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’, in one of his latest documentaries, Yates throws himself into life in the ‘e-dump’ in Ghana’s capital. It is a dumping ground of computers, TVs and general electronics, where “technology goes to die.” Released only in mid-September, Yates experiences life in Agbogbloshie, the dump where young men burn electronic waste in order to expose the metal to then sell. The chemicals produced can inevitably lead to damages in the nervous system and cancer, with families being forced to raise young children in these horrific conditions.
Reggie encounters men selling scraps from as close to home as Wimbledon and Manchester, showing that the ‘strict’ regulations of e-waste in the UK are not being followed by everyone. This has made it to my top three documentaries because I had no idea about it before – it shines a light on one of the most toxic places on earth and it’s a shock to think it’s not common knowledge.