We Need To Talk About Chicken Shop Date

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen criticism of Amelia Dimoldenberg and her hit show Chicken Shop Date fester under the surface like hot bubbling lava in a volcano slowly rising. With the recent appearances of top-billed celebrities on the show like Summer Walker, Burna Boy and Keke Palmer, that volcano has erupted with hot steaming discourse landing all over the UK Black Twitter sphere. Given the show’s popularity, critical acclaim and burgeoning fame in the US, why are some questioning the success of Chicken Shop Date?
The interview-style YouTube series first premiered in 2014 with her first guest being Black British grime artist Ghetts. Over the past 8 years Dimoldenberg’s YouTube channel has racked up a whopping 1.42 million subscribers and the show has gained notoriety for its sarcastic and satirical tone and style. Its distinguishable quality and humour have attracted the attention of well-known footballers, YouTubers, musicians, presenters, actors and cultural icons who have chosen to appear on the show. 
The show has brought Dimoldenberg ample success and opportunities, having written for The Guardian and Vogue and made documentaries for Vice and Channel 4. She has appeared on The Big Narstie Show, Don't Hate the Playaz and Celebrity Come Dine With Me. In 2019, The Sunday Times listed Dimoldenberg as the 77th biggest influencer in the UK. In the same year, she was included in the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000, a list of the most influential Londoners. In 2018, Dimoldenberg presented the Channel 4 documentary Meet the Markles, where she travels to the US to meet members of Meghan Markle's family. She has also attended notable UK award shows such as MOBO, NME and BAFTA.
The Chicken Shop Date format consists of creator and host Amelia Dimoldenberg asking her guests random questions as they eat in a fried chicken restaurant for a “date”. Dimoldenberg’s personality contributes heavily to the humour of the show, with her awkward and deadpan comedy style resulting in some unique, interesting and funny interviews and viral moments. 
Dimoldenberg cleverly uses the juxtaposition of an awkward white girl in a chicken shop as her whole gimmick, drawing in viewers because it’s something they haven’t seen before. However, this has led some to question her involvement in UK Black British spaces.

People are wondering why it’s so easy for white people to enter and succeed in our cultural spaces. Particularly, when many Black creatives and Black talent in the UK media industry are struggling to secure gigs and be seen...

From what I’ve gathered on Twitter, for example here, here and here, a lot of people seem to think that the show’s format, paired with a middle-class white female host is problematic as UK chicken shops are seen as something that is typically rooted in working class and ethnic minority culture. They’re community staples for those who live in Ends (so, a lot of us Black people) and are rarely found in Central London (Dimoldenberg grew up in Marylebone). An article mapping which chicken shops dominate which areas in London can be found here. They are more abundant in Greater London areas as opposed to Central London.
As the show secures bigger names and becomes the go-to interview show for celebrities doing press runs and appearances in the UK, some people believe it should be other Black presenters in the industry such as Nella Rose securing these interviews, especially when it comes to getting access to huge Black names. Nella has previously expressed her frustration in the UK media industry, with people having told her she needs to “tone down” her personality.
Chicken Shop Date’s budding global recognition has opened it up to a Pandora’s box of criticism. Whilst the show has been received mostly positively here in the UK, people on the other side of the pond seem to find it strange. Recently, in a discussion with YouTuber and Chicken Shop Date alumnus KSI, American comedian Andrew Schulz expresses his shock at the premise of a show where a “white girl takes Black people to eat chicken.” Back over here, a few years ago Zeze Mills and Giggs had a heated back and forth over social media over comments she made about Black artists choosing to interview with Dimoldenberg instead of grassroots Black-presented shows. 
This subject matter is extremely nuanced, which is why it’s hard for some people to understand why people have an issue with the show. Dimoldenberg is likeable and isn’t directly harming anyone. This is quite clear as celebrities are actively choosing to appear on the show. However, good intentions don’t always mean good consequences. 
Increasingly, some Black people are feeling that it’s unfair for a white woman to benefit from a show format which has core elements that are rooted in Black, working-class and minority culture. Many have been asking, if a Black person did this exact same show, would they have achieved the same level of success?
The conversation is really about white privilege and access. People are wondering why it’s so easy for white people to enter and succeed in our cultural spaces. Particularly, when many Black creatives and Black talent in the UK media industry are struggling to secure gigs and be seen, whereas white people can gain status and visibility in minutes.
We have already seen this pattern before with Alex Mann, the 15-year-old white boy who got on stage with Dave at Glastonbury and rapped all the lyrics to “Thiago Silva”. The video went viral on social media and news platforms with people praising his skills and charisma. Many at the time wondered: if a Black boy got on stage, would it have gotten the same widespread admiration and recognition? I fear that we are approaching a formula of virality in media that relies on cultural juxtaposition as spectacle. Specifically, when white people are inserted into Black spaces to participate in our culture, it becomes a media sensation because it’s so rare and new to see.
Some might argue the success of Chicken Shop Date is a slippery slope for the future of Black creative content and media as it relays a message that it’s acceptable for white people to gain fame and profit from a community they do not belong to and that is already disadvantaged. It’s arguable that Dimoldenberg’s formula has worked so well because she’s white and so when white commissioners, executives and producers recognise this strategy as having big money-making potential, they will start to see Black culture as an abundant goldmine at which to start chipping. It wouldn’t be the first time we have been used and abused by *that* demographic for monetary gain anyway. Commodified and consumed. Nothing new at all. 

It’s important for us to be able to have these conversations and critique this very unlevel playing field of an industry we are in. 

However, despite this criticism, Dimoldenberg is well aware of her white privilege and her position in these spaces. In an interview with Complex, she was asked about her take on these critiques of her being a white woman in a Black space and said:

 “I think it’s important to talk about these things. I feel a lot of responsibility to make sure what I’m doing is authentic and respectful. I’m also aware, part of the reason people like watching my videos is because they play off the humour that naturally occurs when two different cultures collide. I take my job in the scene that I’m working in very seriously. As I’ve said before, I’m very aware of my privileged position as a white woman, however, I hope I’m using it to fully support UK artists.” 

In another interview with BBC, she acknowledges that “People who aren’t white have to work harder to enter this space.” 
Defenders of  Dimoldenberg (you can find them here, here and here) say her critics have gone too far and view her position as ‘adjacent to’ rather than ‘in’ Black culture. Not only that, but people have argued that Dimoldenberg is just likeable; it’s not her fault that Black celebrities are choosing to go on her platform.
At the end of the day, no one is calling for her to be flogged or de-platformed, but it’s important for us to be able to have these conversations and critique this very unlevel playing field of an industry we are in. Perhaps it might not be such an issue if everybody was being fed, but it’s clear that some feel that there are too few seats at the table for a white person to take up a whole chair. 

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