,

Ziwe – Hilary Banks in her Radical Era

Marsho is a third year History student

The pipeline of ‘creatives’ starting off by making videos on YouTube progressing to getting their own show and working with production companies always seems to be built on a shaky foundation. There’s always one influencer or another managing to gain enough popularity, only to fall short when it comes to translating any of that charm or online personality on a T.V. screen – but this is not the case with Ziwe Fumudoh. 

Originating from the series Baited with Ziwe on YouTube, Ziwe on Showtime is a radical take on standard late-night talk shows. It features an array of guests who each give their take on the theme of the episode while simultaneously trying to navigate their way through Ziwe’s questions, getting themselves into deeper shit by doing so.

  Although Ziwe maintains that the show is satirical, the basis of the series revolves around touching on racial, gendered, and economic issues within American society and politics from a revolutionary black feminist lens. Many political theories that utilise this lens can also be linked to Ziwe, including activist Claudia Jones’ theory of the super-exploitation of black working-class women, who live at the intersection of multiple different systems of oppression and disenfranchisement. This is a persistent theme throughout the show, as Ziwe steers through ideas like race-relations and class divide in a digital era dominated by the overbearing influence of mass media– all while sporting an extravagant fur coat with a colourful eyeliner look to match.

In an article by The Guardian[1], Ziwe is criticised for relying too heavily on the shock factor of her provocative interviews to cling onto the same virality that got her the show to keep it going. Although the author concludes the article with a morsel offering of what can be interpreted as praise for its ‘zing’, the bulk of the review is focused on critiquing the format of the interviews. But what is the real issue here? 

In the pilot episode, author Fran Lebowitz is asked ‘What bothers you more, slow walkers or racism?’. To which Fran responds that she encounters slow walkers more regularly. One of the most refreshing features of Ziwe is that it does not subscribe to the collective American state of amnesia towards the country’s past (and present!). Instead, it mocks this tendency by illuminating the absurdity of these responses, paired with awkward, dead-pan shots to make sure the viewer is included and catches on. Obviously, part of the show’s appeal is the fact that it has that sharp, raw realness which is what the format comprises. Stripping away the format means stripping away the core of Ziwe, which is meant to be radical and controversial. The way in which Ziwe’s political views are reflected into her show may be perceived on a surface-level as a simple style that she uses to get quick views, but just by looking at the titles of each episode emphasises that there is an intention behind Ziwe.

Popularising radical feminist political theory in the form of media is not an easy task, especially in a society that actively chooses to ignore the faults in its infrastructure. So why spoon-feed that information delicately when you have the platform to unapologetically drive those points across? 

Yes, it may make the guest uncomfortable for the duration of the interview, but that discomfort is a small price to pay to finally be able to express the ideas that come from using this lens in popular media. Despite all the banter, the topics that Ziwe discusses are real-life issues that are overlooked by those they do not affect. By asking the questions she does, Ziwe is able to regurgitate the significance of these topics in a way that has not been done before in traditional media.