Sam Bishop looks at what makes Reggie Yates’ documentaries such a good watch
Reggie Yates has been doing a series of documentaries on BBC detailing issues in countries including South Africa, Russia, USA and, most recently, the UK. These have focussed on issues such as race and politics and the UK version has looked at gender and sexuality. Reggie has presented all of these and there’s a reason he keeps doing them: he is damn good at it. As a presenter he is not only casual but also effective at his job.
Firstly, his manner is what makes the documentaries so enjoyable. Many people would see presenting a documentary as an easy task, but it’s not until you see one badly executed that you realise what it takes. If you simply ask questions and have no charisma, the whole presentation seems rather dull. If you make it too much about yourself though, the informative aspect takes a backseat. Reggie, however, balances the two. He questions people for their opinions and also responds sensitively to that information, offering his own insight and perspective when appropriate.
Sensitive is the right word to describe him as a presenter. In terms of body language and expression, he looks as if he cares what people are saying and also responds, so it is more of a dialogue. He never passes judgment on the people he is talking to, even when their views are controversial or offensive. For example, in Russia he was talking to a far-right group who casually used a racial slur to refer to him and, although he was clearly taken aback, he did not respond negatively. Although this isn’t necessarily sensitive, it shows a neutral tone to his presenting and a remarkable level of self-control.
To stay with his documentary in Russia, he had to deal with a variety of heated and possibly volatile situations, including attending rallies where his race could lead to personal attacks. This was obviously brave but was also a commitment to getting the information he needed, even if it made him uncomfortable. In the same episode he also met people who voiced troubling views in regards to his race, yet he also stayed and further gauged their opinions. In a foreign country especially this showed a lot of dedication.
The other parts of his series on Russia, however, were less personally relevant to him, yet he gave them the same level of attention. The episode regarding homosexuality, for instance, saw him follow a man that had previously been victim to many assaults due to his sexuality, and Reggie even accompanied him into various situations where the same could have happened. Although this didn’t apply to his own sexuality, he still gave the same concern to the issue. This also applied to the episode dealing with teenage models. This was an episode where he was clearly uncomfortable too, seeing as he was witnessing the potential exploitation of teenage girls.
Unfortunately I missed his venture into South Africa in part of the same ‘Extreme’ series, but I did see his journey to the USA. This was a particularly interesting one-off documentary which not only gave insight into the current situation in the USA but also the history of the situation and the events which led up to the racial tension. Again, though, he connected with certain individuals and followed them in order to gauge opinions and see how certain people dealt with the situations going on around them. It was clear he developed a personal rapport with those he was talking to, making me and the housemate I watch his shows with think he is genuinely a nice person.
His episode in the USA was also interesting since he not only engaged with the current volatility but also explained to the audience how it came to be that way and the events that transpired. Again, he did not pass judgment at all but made sure the facts were the most important thing, looking at both sides of the argument without being provocative. He also questioned those about what the future would hold as well, leaving the end open for the audience’s interpretation.
Now, however, he is in the UK with his series currently on air. In the first episode, he engaged with several homosexual or transsexual individuals who explained their issues to him as well as their relationship with others. In this he again paid close attention to both sides of the issue and remained neutral, however, it was interesting to see how he interacted with those who were more similar to him: young black men from London. He related it to his own situation and compared it to his own rationale. Not only this, but he actively helped a young man to become more comfortable with his sexuality by accompanying him to a gay pride event.
So there are many reasons why Reggie Yates’ documentaries are great, but the central one is Reggie himself. He presents in such a neutral yet engaging way, interacting with humour and personality with the world and the people that it makes for intriguing viewing. That is why I would recommend you to watch his latest series in the UK as it can only reproduce the same levels of interest, even if you do not have an opinion of the issue in the episode. May he have many more documentaries on BBC Three.