Love Island: Is Kai and Sanam winning a step forward for diversity?

Kai and Sanam were crowned the winners of series nine of Love Island last night, and to be honest, I was surprised.

Not because they’re not a loveable couple, haven’t been on a journey in the villa or don’t share cute moments (her almost saying she loves him in the final topped them off!) but because people of colour haven’t always had the best treatment on the dating show.

Kai and Sanam winning Love Island makes them the first non-white couple to win in the show’s almost ten-year history, and as the programme continues to come under scrutiny for its lack of diversity, I wonder whether or not this is a step in the right direction for representation.

Recent seasons have seen the show grow in its inclusion of ethnic minorities, with last year seeing Love Island’s most diverse cast yet; Islanders like Indiyah, Dami, Ekin-Su and more all won the public’s hearts as well as being successful in the competition. It’s been refreshing to see!

But, that doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t still have a long way to go for making up for its past mistakes. From the tokenisation in the original line-ups and the mistreatment of Black women to the lack of Asian representation and ignorance to how race affects dating and more.

I’ve felt disappointed every single time I’ve watched a Black woman left single in the first episode, or an Asian woman leave the villa after just a few days (remember Shannon Singh getting kicked off after just one day? I’m still annoyed about it!). It makes me question whether contestants and producers ever discuss race and ethnicity in dating when auditioning for the show.

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Since appearing on Love Island, many contestants of colour have called out the series for its lack of racial diversity. Season seven’s Rachel Finni – the show’s first Black bombshell – said she felt tokenised throughout her experience and undesired by her fellow, white contestants, who allegedly expressed they weren’t attracted to Black women.

Sharon Gaffka from the same season said she also struggled to find love on the show due to its lack of diversity, and said important conversations about race and dating between her and fellow contestant, Kaz Kamwi, were never aired.

Most recently, past contestant Priya Gopaldas called out the show for its lack of south Asian representation. On her Instagram story, she wrote: “It’s impossible to represent every ethnicity. Asians make up the 2nd highest proportion of the UK population so should be represented appropriately.”

It’s not just about representation. It’s about showing that people of colour are desirable and worthy of love. Many women of colour could deeply relate to Samira Mighty in season four, who tearfully opened up about feeling unwanted and unattractive when boys in the villa constantly preferred white women like Megan Barton-Hanson over her. If producers have open, honest conversations about race and dating during the audition process then maybe situations like that could’ve been avoided.

Not only has Love Island fallen short in its representations of people of colour, but it’s portrayals of different body types and sexualities. We’re still yet to see a plus-size contestant and there’s been little space for contestants to explore non-heterosexual relationships despite previous Islanders like Sharon Gaffka and Amber Rose Gill identifying as bisexual.

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But with all that said, Kai and Sanam, who are of Jamaican and Trinidadian heritage, winning this season of Love Island is a huge step in the right direction for me. I hope it proves that diversity and inclusivity on dating shows shouldn’t be ignored but thought about at every step of the process. It’s not enough anymore to use people of colour as tokens or to tick a box, we deserve more!

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