The BBC has defended its hit show Strictly Come Dancing after the departure of the second black contestant in as many weeks prompted accusations of racism on social media.
Soap actor Tameka Empson left the show after losing the dance-off to TV presenter Laura Whitmore. They were in the bottom two after receiving the fewest viewer votes. Empson is the second of three black contestants in a starting line-up of 15 to have left the show, in only the second week where the public was given a vote.
Radio DJ Melvin Odoom left last week after receiving the fewest public votes. His elimination was based on the voting figures alone after the usual dance-off was cancelled because of an injury sustained by singer Anastacia.
Empson’s departure left some fans alleging that viewers had been racist.
David Barber wrote on Twitter: “Strictly voters at home show their racist leanings again. Two shows. Two black dancers eliminated.”
Matt Greer wrote: “Nothing shows how racist the UK is quite like Strictly.”
But student Emzie Langan wrote: “Those who think Strictly is racist because two black celebs have gone need to have a serious word with themselves. Idiots.”
And Robert Weaver added: “Is there a racist element to public vote on Strictly? We’ll know for sure if Ore [Oduba] goes next week.”
The BBC pointed out that it was up to the voting public to ensure that contestants stayed in the competition. “Judges judge the dancing and the dancing alone, not anything else,” said a spokeswoman, adding that in all bar three of the 14 previous series of Strictly the winner or runner up had been either black or mixed race.
The complaints do not seem to have affected the show’s popularity. The latest episode, which featured former Labour MP Ed Balls dressed up as Jim Carrey in The Mask, attracted a peak audience of 10.6 million, well above the 9.2 million who watched the previous week and up a million from its first live show in September.
The departure of EastEnders actor Empson on Sunday provoked a reaction from celebrity fans. Miranda Hart tweeted her support.
Daily Mirror columnist Fleet Street Fox said that Odoom’s departure suggested that “people are racist” rather than the BBC.
Three mixed-race contestants – Alesha Dixon, Mark Ramprakash and Louis Smith – have won the show in previous years and Colin Jackson, Denise Lewis and Simon Webbe are among six black or mixed race contestants to have come second. In only three years – 2008, 2010 and 2015 – has there not been a single black or mixed-race person in the final as winner or runner-up.
A BBC insider said the programme’s record was “about as far from racist as you can get”.
The initial vote from the judges put Empson in the middle of the leaderboard; she fell into the bottom two after her score was combined with viewers’ votes. After the resulting dance-off, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman opted to keep Whitmore, while Darcey Bussell voted in Empson’s favour.