Actor Rakie Ayola effortlessly dismantles ‘woke’ dogwhistle after ‘loaded’ BBC question

A screenshot of actor Rakie Ayola from BBC Breakfast giving her response to a question about wokeness. (BBC)

Actor Rakie Ayola shut down the suggestion that centring a Black family in her new show is “woke”. 

Ayola was promoting her show The Pact, in which she plays the matriarch of a Black family, on BBC Breakfast when presenter Victoria Fritz suggested some might see the cast as a “woke version of a Welsh family”.

The Cardiff-born actor gave a masterful response, unpicking the suggestion that a Black family is automatically “woke”.

“If anyone wants to say that to me what I would say firstly is, explain what you mean by woke and then we can have a conversation,” she began.

She continued: “If you cannot explain it, don’t use a word you cannot describe because you don’t know what you mean.

“Or maybe you know exactly what you mean and you are afraid to say what you mean so let’s have that conversation. Not even afraid, you daren’t.”

Explaining why the family shouldn’t be considered “woke”, she added: “I will introduce you to a family like this one,  so are you saying they don’t exist when they clearly do?

“Are you saying they are not allowed to exist, what do you mean by that? Let’s have a proper conversation.

“Don’t throw words around willy-nilly when you are not afraid to say exactly what you mean. If you don’t know please be quiet because you are incredibly boring.”
The term woke was originated by Black Americans, and its original meaning meant to be conscious of important societal and structural issues, such as racism.

But woke has been co-opted, largely by the mainstream, as a pejorative to hit out at representation and inclusion.

Comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle have used “woke” to defend their anti-trans jokes, while in politics, British politicians Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Penny Mordaunt have all used the term to rally against trans-inclusive policies.

The term also crops up as an allegation when we see diverse casting, such as when period dramas like Bridgerton or fantasies like House of the Dragon dare to include people of colour. Or if there is a female alien with two hearts on our screen rather than a male.

Right-wing critics have asked why a show like Lord of the Rings: The Ring of Power has gone woke – in fact, what they’re asking is why it includes Black people.

Ayola’s measured takedown of the misuse of woke has been praised on social media, with one person saying: “This should be the response to every commentator, journalist and MP who have become far too comfortable throwing the term ‘woke’ into every one of their dog whistle opinions.”

Another added: “One of the best rebuttals to the use of the word “woke” as a pejorative I’ve ever seen. Here Welsh actress Rakie Ayola calls out the racism behind the use of the term in suppressing progressive art & ideas in our culture.

Many criticised Victoria Fritz’s line of questioning
Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party, tweeted: “When will the BBC accept that quoting racist tropes and asking a question at the end is not balance?”

Rakie Ayola posted on Twitter after a video of the exchange went viral.

“No apology wanted or needed,” she wrote, “believe me, if I felt differently you’d know. A loaded question maybe, but I got to say on national TV what I’ve been saying to [husband] Adam Smethurst for months. I’m glad it struck a chord.”

Ayola has returned to The Pact for its second season in a completely new role as Christine Rees, the matriarch in a family with three children, Megan Rees (Mali-Ann Rees), Will Rees (Lloyd Everitt) and Jamie Rees (Aaron Anthony).

In this season, a lookalike of her recently deceased son, Connor (Jordan Wilks), begins stalking the family claiming to be a long-lost child.

The show has previously had wide-ranging representation with LGBTQ+ characters, people from different ethnicities and a central theme around sexism and misogyny in society.
The Pact season two airs every Monday on BBC One, or watch all episodes on BBC iPlayer.