Hollyoaks racism claims explained as the show launches an investigation

Daniel Kilkelly
Photo credit: Lime Pictures/Digital Spy - Getty Images

From Digital Spy

Hollyoaks bosses have launched an investigation into racism on set after regular cast member Rachel Adedeji spoke out about facing prejudice at work.

The actress, who plays Lisa Loveday, made a public statement last week after the Channel 4 soap announced plans to address the Black Lives Matter movement.

Adedeji's statement has been supported by a number of her co-stars past and present, while others have also come forward to raise their own concerns over racism on set.

Here's our guide to how the situation has unfolded so far.

Hollyoaks' original statement on Black Lives Matter (June 4)

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

On Thursday, June 4, Hollyoaks announced plans to address the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in the US. Protests have been taking place around the world after the death of Mr Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Footage recorded at the scene showed white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for several minutes while he was pinned to the ground.

Hollyoaks star and former Eternal singer Kéllé Bryan, who plays Martine Deveraux, later fronted a video for the Channel 4 show's social-media channels. She announced plans for a Black Lives Matter podcast featuring cast members from the show.

"We've been busy behind the scenes having lots of highly important conversations and we'll be kick-starting with a podcast all about racism – how we tackle it, how we face it and, most importantly, how we overcome it," Bryan said.

Scriptwriter Matthew Jacobs Morgan speaks out (June 5)

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

On Friday, June 5, Matthew Jacobs Morgan – a Black actor, writer and scriptwriter who penned an episode for Hollyoaks in 2018 – responded to the announcement of the show's podcast.

In a tweet, Morgan explained: "Working on HOLLYOAKS was so damaging. I was the only Black person on a writing / story staff of 60 and left after one episode after being treated terribly. Different to any of my colleagues. Wrote a complaint but they apologised to my agent rather than direct to me."

Morgan has since taken this tweet down, telling his followers: "So overwhelmed by the supportive response to this. I'm taking the tweet down to focus on more positive things and to zero in on what I can do as part of this movement as this particular experience is in the past."

Rachel Adedeji speaks out (June 5)

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Rachel Adedeji posted a message of support for Matthew Jacobs Morgan on Twitter, before releasing her own statement about her experiences of racism on set.

Adedeji described Hollyoaks' Black Lives Matter statement as "disingenuous" and "performative", adding that the planned podcast was the "bare minimum".

She wrote: "Having a Black cast member speak on behalf of Hollyoaks to show that the work is being done is not as progressive as you think."

Adedeji revealed incidents of racism involving different departments at Hollyoaks, including make-up and senior staff. She also called out a lack of diversity among the crew.

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

She wrote: "Did Black Lives Matter when I was told 'You're all the same' by a make-up artist you employed, and remains in employment till this day?

"Did Black Lives Matter when a number of female Black actors were forced to drastically change their hair, because if not, the viewers 'would not be able to tell them apart'?

"Do Black Lives Matter when my fellow Black cast mates are deemed angry, aggressive and too vocal?

"Did Black Lives Matter when we were referred to as 'blackies' by a senior member of the production team? Do Black Lives really Matter to you if over the last 4 years at Hollyoaks, I have only worked with ONE black director?"

She continued: "Working at Hollyoaks is mostly positive, but the experiences I have encountered are a constant reminder of how difficult it is being a Black woman in the industry. I am no longer standing for it.

"Putting out a podcast on racism and asking your Black cast members to teach you how to tackle these issues is the bare minimum. THINK. DO BETTER.

"I hope Hollyoaks delivers the same energy when #BlackLivesMatter is no longer trending."

Hollyoaks released an initial response to Adedeji's comments, telling Digital Spy: "We are really concerned to read Rachel's comments on social media about Hollyoaks this evening. We will be in touch with Rachel directly."

The following day, the show promised an investigation: "Hollyoaks has zero tolerance on racism. We are taking Rachel Adedeji's comments extremely seriously and are investigating."

Support from other Hollyoaks stars (June 5 onwards)

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

A number of Hollyoaks stars past and present have spoken out to support Rachel Adedeji following her statement.

Karl Collins, who played Adedeji's on-screen father Louis Loveday between 2015 and 2019, commented: "Well..... it will come as no surprise that I love this woman who I affectionately call 'darta!' I am so proud of her bravery! #speakyourtruth @RachelASongs #noliestold #BlackLivesMatterUK"

Jacqueline Boatswain, who played Adedeji's on-screen mum Simone Loveday, also tweeted her support.

Luke Jerdy, who played Jesse Donovan from 2016 until this year, confirmed that he had witnessed one of the incidents that Adedeji had referred to in her statement.

Several of the current cast have also posted their support in recent days, including Jessica Fox, Nikki Sanderson, Rishi Nair, Haiesha Mistry, Owen Warner, Ross Adams and Talia Grant.

Former script team member Claire Hanrahan speaks out (June 6)

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

Claire Hanrahan, who worked as part of Hollyoaks' script and story department in 2016 and 2017, made an Instagram post on Saturday, June 6 which made further allegations of racism behind the scenes.

Hanrahan stated that she had debated over whether to share her story as "now is not the time for white voices and opinions," but had ultimately decided to speak out.

She said: "So I'm here amplifying Rachel and Matthew's voices, and standing with them on the issue of racism at Hollyoaks. I personally witnessed racism during my time at Hollyoaks, and saw it cost a talented director her job.

"I decided I was leaving around that time, and that I would write a letter to the head of Lime Pictures about it (along with a whole lot of other bs that went down there) once I'd left.

"The director asked me to speak up with her at the time, but I said I felt more comfortable sending a letter in a few weeks, once I was out of there.

"I can make a lot of excuses as to why I did this – I was scared, I didn't want to make it awkward for myself to be there, I didn't want to get fired, I was pregnant, I had been bullied there and it didn't feel safe etc etc etc.

"I didn't see how wrong it was to centre my own comfort in that situation. I didn't see that it was a privilege to make the choice to stay silent while a POC lost their job and was asking me to stand with them. I didn't see how I was using racism to make my own case, instead of honouring the needs of the person being victimised."

She added: "I'm hoping it's not too late to do the right thing. I've been back in touch with the head of Lime Pictures, following up on my letter and demanding more than token apologies and unfulfilled promises.

"Systemic change is needed – a podcast is not going to cut it @hollyoaksofficial. For any other white folks who have witnessed racism in the workplace, I urge you to speak up."

Digital Spy approached Hollyoaks over Hanrahan's post and the show responded with a statement: "Lime Pictures has a zero tolerance approach to racism. Claire Hanrahan was employed in the script and story department at Hollyoaks from between 2016 and 2017.

"Shortly after leaving Lime's employment, Claire sent a formal complaint to the producers in December 2017. A full and thorough investigation was undertaken at the time and a detailed response to Claire's complaint was given in January 2018 and she was invited to provide more information about her complaint.

"No further correspondence was received from Claire until this week. In line with our commitment to do the right thing we will review this matter."

Amanda Clapham releases an open letter (June 7)

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On Sunday, June 7, former Hollyoaks star Amanda Clapham – who played Holly Cunningham in the show – released an open letter to Hollyoaks' executive producer Bryan Kirkwood and other members of the senior team.

Clapham, who was a regular cast member between 2013 and 2019, criticised the Hollyoaks team's initial responses to Rachel Adedeji's public statement and called for the show to apologise.

She also stated that she had witnessed racist microaggressions towards Adedeji and another member of the cast.

"I was on set with Rachel not long after she joined the show and a makeup artist brought out a face powder for her. The powder had 'dark' written on it and was two shades darker than Rachel's skin complexion," Clapham alleged.

"When she asked if she could have the correct powder to match her skin tone, she was told no and that was all they had."

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

She added: "I worked with an actor and friend who was, in my opinion, disproportionately 'told off' especially when he first joined the show.

"For example, a group of us would be talking or messing about and he would get picked out. I remember correcting the members of staff, saying we were all involved and my friend used to just take it and say: 'Don't worry about it Amanda'. There were many microaggressions like this and I couldn't believe how well he handled them."

Kéllé Bryan appears on Loose Women (June 8)

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

Kéllé Bryan is also a regular panellist on ITV's Loose Women and appeared on the daytime show on Monday, June 8.

Reflecting on the weekend's events, she revealed that she had received a backlash for promoting Hollyoaks' podcast in the initial social-media message.

However, Bryan stressed that she has been working behind the scenes for a while now to help instigate changes at Hollyoaks. This includes leading an open forum at Hollyoaks where Black cast members can raise issues with the senior team.

Referring to last week's social-media post, Bryan said: "It's been really difficult because I've been seen as an Uncle Tom, a coconut, a clown, a puppet to be used. [But] I've used my voice very forthrightly before Black Lives Matter, before I had the support of my community in this way."

She continued: "It was a difficult weekend – not just for me, Rachel also. It's been a difficult weekend for all of the Black cast of Hollyoaks because we've been dealing with our own personal journey of dealing with the tragedy, dealing with George Floyd's death and dealing with the horrific events that have happened.

"But now we're having to deal with this publicly and we're dealing with lots of people's opinions and some of them are misinformed because they're not aware of the facts. Just to say to all of those people who have been posting, it's hurtful."

Hollyoaks promises changes (June 9)

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On Tuesday, June 9, Hollyoaks' production company Lime Pictures released a detailed statement revealing its initial plans to tackle the issue of racism on set.

The production company has reached out to all staff and freelancers, encouraging them to come forward to raise any "issues of concern or instances of unacceptable behaviour".

Lime Pictures stated that it has also contacted everybody who has raised issues over the past few days to ensure that their concerns can be properly addressed.

Moving forward, Hollyoaks will be working with unconscious bias trainers "to augment Lime's all-staff training to help address concerns raised by cast and staff".

Photo credit: Lime Pictures

The current BAME writers and directors schemes will also be "reviewed and augmented to drive greater inclusivity within the industry".

Its statement added: "Lime Pictures strives to have zero tolerance of racism or any form of discrimination across all of its shows but it is clear we have further work to do.

"We must stamp out implicit bias which means calling out racism wherever and whenever we see it. We will continue to add to our action plan as we continue and broaden our dialogue with cast and staff.

"We are very conscious that we need to do more and are committed to making changes that we need to make. The onus is upon our company collectively and us all as individuals within our community to tackle racism, and it is a responsibility which all of us here at Hollyoaks are taking on fully."

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