I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve deliberately kept a distance from Big Brother during its decade-long run, and I can’t help but feel you’ve got to be a little bit weird to even consider going on the show. I found out, however, that it was impossible to avoid picking up random, seemingly pointless gossip from both people around me and the “Entertainment” section of Google News as I scrolled past.
Amongst these random tidbits of information, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about Nadia Almada – a trans woman – winning the show a few years back. Nadia’s victory and general media presence seemed to signal that an important step forward had been taken in terms of tolerance and acceptance. She seemed to be a broadly popular figure during her fifteen minutes of fame, and it was positive to see that most of her detractors criticised her in a way that didn’t question her womanhood. I only wish we could take that kind of thing for granted.
Fast-forward a few years, and Channel 4 seem to be doing some kind of “Ultimate Big Brother” show in order to “celebrate” the long-awaited demise of their former flagship “reality” programme. Once again, I can’t help picking up the odd bit of news…and this time it isn’t so positive.
Nadia is apparently unpopular this time around…well, I thought, perhaps she annoyed people, perhaps the public are fickle, etc. A few stories caught my eye, however, and you didn’t need to put too many of them together before you started to pick out some emerging themes.
Reality television shows have always thrived on conflict and drama and it’s no surprise therefore that a great deal of the said drama is completely made up. I remember a TV crew turning up at a local venue in my area to film a reality show that followed some girl around…they basically took over an existing night, booked their own band, plonked their girl in the middle of the dance floor and told her what to say. Similarly, there’s a fair few stories out there about how protagonists and villains are created within other shows by editing the footage, showing particular events and hiding others.
I suppose this is all par for the course when it comes to reality television. Look a bit deeper though, and you can see something far nastier is going on.
It appears that one of the other people in the show was sustaining a fairly constant barrage of transphobic abuse in Nadia’s general direction. Moreover, it seems that this was cut from a great deal of the TV footage. That kind of treatment is enough to put anyone on edge – particularly if others aren’t standing up for you. The show’s producers and Channel 4 seemed content simply to hush this up, and paint Nadia as some raving angry woman.
A couple of examples:
[…] Numerous tantrums and arguments with fellow housemate Coolio, as well as harsh words to winner of Big Brother 11 Josie Gibson about her relationship with fellow housemate John James Parton, caused Nadia to leave the house to a chorus of boos. She returned home to find her car had been egged and a stack of hate mail on her doormat. Once again the question is raised as to whether it is all in the edit and if even the most well known Big Brother alumni know what is in store for them when they leave the house. Nadia said: “Going back on Big Brother has ruined my life. I was the victim in that house but I was shown to be the villain.
“I feel betrayed by Channel 4. There was no loyalty from them, no duty of care. They failed to protect me.
“Coolio targeted me on the first night and he wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept asking about my gender status and he humiliated me over it.” […]
Apparently the now evicted housemate, Makosi, has accused Big Brother producers of trying to cover up a race row. She went on to claim that bosses chose not to show viewers clips of Coolio using racist and homophobic comments on the show.
The American gangsta rapper agreed to leave the show during a long series of blazing fights with transgender housemate Nadia Alamda. However later, after being kicked off the show, Makosi revealed why Coolio, age 47, had to be let go.
She said that she was just disgusted by his behavior with Nadia, because he kept calling her “they.” The first thing that he asked her when he got into the house was if Nadia was a he or she. Makosi told him that she was a girl. Then on the second day he tried to get Makosi and Josie Gibson to touch Nadia in an inappropriate way. […]
The deliberate editing of Ultimate Big Brother seems to have fucked over Nadia on a pretty epic scale. It seems like she’s been made into (one of?) the villain(s) of Ultimate Big Brother – the viewers see one set of events in which she shouts at people, resulting in her becoming unpopular and being evicted. However, anyone who has to put up with sustained abuse is likely to have a “tantrum”.
If the accounts of various Ultimate Big Brother contestants are true, the makers of Big Brother seem to have been facilitating harassment and discrimination even as they downplayed their importance. They literally erased transphobic abuse even as they got rid of the guy who was responsible for it, thereby turning the victim into the troublemaker.
Moreover, the fact that Nadia has apparently recieved serious harassment since leaving the show is particularly troubling. On one hand, any individual who takes part in reality television is putting themselves in danger of negative publicity: on the other hand, the creators of these programmes should surely take responsibility for their part in ruining someone’s life. This is particularly the case when we’re talking about individuals who are already more vulnerable than most. As a trans woman, Nadia is particularly at risk of harassment, violence, murder, self-harm and suicide. Removing transphobic abuse from Ultimate Big Brother was not a neutral act: it facilitated further abuse and possible violence even as it invisibilised the processes by which trans people are discriminated against.
To add insult to injury, presenter Davina McCall threw in an offhand transphobic comment of her own.
The whole affair is reminiscent of how other individuals from minority groups have been treated on reality television in the past: for instance, selective editing created a handy villain on Castaway 2000 whilst downplaying the impact of homophobic abuse. Quite frankly, the whole genre stinks of exploitation, and always has done. In that sense, the treatment of Nadia isn’t in the slightest bit surprising, but it’s no less sad for that. I wish her the best, and hope ill-wishers start leaving her the hell alone.