Talking TV with 'An African City' creator Nicole Amarteifio.....



An African City creator Nicole Amarteifio
© MisBeee Writes

For those of you that have been living under a rock since 2 March 2014, African TV just got sexier with the arrival of YouTube web series ‘An African City’, (see MisBeee Writes 18 May 2014: Reasporans: New African returnees). 

The 10-part series, which was the brainchild of Ghana-born Nicole Amarteifio, charts the experiences of five successful and professional women who return to Ghana from the West to settle.

The cast includes journalist Nana Yaa, Harvard graduate and marketing manager Sade, Ngozi, who works for an international development agency, entrepreneur Zainab, and Oxford graduate and lawyer Makena.

As with the five leading characters in the show, Nicole was schooled and worked in the US before deciding to return to Ghana. Her inspiration for the web series came from feeling tired about the single story told about Africa and its people, and wanting to challenge these stereotypes.  

The series is unashamedly modelled on the US blockbuster 'Sex and the City' and just like Issa Rae’s 'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl', it has enjoyed huge success on YouTube. So much so, that Nicole is embarking on a second season.

But 'An African City' continues to divide opinion with some viewers critical of its sexual content and its apparent focus on the elite in Ghana. One of the memorable episodes features Sade, who was raised in Texas by a Nigerian pastor father and Ghanaian mother, arriving at the customs office trying to retrieve her vibrator. When bribing the customs agent fails to work, dropping her well-known father's name into conversation does the trick.

Although Nicole has also been accused of playing up to stereotypes, she has made it clear from the start that she set out to write a story about Westernised African females. The series has comedic elements but also explores some of the social issues [sexism, affordable housing, and corruption] still faced on the continent. Her aim is to hold up a mirror to African societies and draw on real experiences to reflect what many of us have experienced when going back home.

MisBeee caught up with Nicole at a 10-year anniversary conference, staged by Ghanaian diaspora network  Star 100, to find out a bit more about her show.

MisBeee: What has been the global response to 'An African City'?
Nicole Amarteifio: What we’ve seen is people around the globe are ready for fresh new content from Africa. For so long, the story about Africa was poverty, war, and disease. So for somebody to come up with a story about five successful, educated, fabulous women 'talking about sex all the time', it was something different – something new.

MB: And speaking of sex, how was that received in Ghana?
NA: First of all, all the talk about Ghana being conservative….whatever! All I know is that there's a lot of people who come up to me and tell me that it's their mothers that introduced them to the show. People stop me in restaurants in Accra and say 'thank you'.

They are overlooking whether it is prudish or not conservative enough. They are looking at the fact that finally they feel that another story about the African woman is being presented. And because they relate to the girls, they are saying 'thank you' for making me and my story visible on screen.

I also think it’s about priorities - and asking the question of whether the conservative and non-conservative issue more important than allowing these women's stories to become visible. Making their stories visible is more of a priority for many and those women have appreciated that from us.

MB: You’ve successfully launched the series on YouTube, where next?
NA: Our first thought has been M-Net (A South African subscription-funded TV channel) which has dominated the TV space. And when you are a TV producer, that is your ultimate goal. What I’m only just learning is that there are so many networks around the globe that are interested in African content. So we will see......

At the same time, we have really enjoyed the web experience of putting content on YouTube. It has meant that wherever someone is in the world - if it is an African woman in Italy or Canada, she can access the show, and I love that. I also love the online conversation, whether it is good or bad, critical or positive. So there’s a part of me that is conflicted about traditional versus non-traditional media platforms when it come to showing Season 2.

MB: So we are getting a Season 2 then?
NA:  Yes, we are in pre-production right now, which means we are raising finances, talking to designers about clothes, talking to musicians, and writing and editing scripts.
[In Season 1, the characters' clothes came from African designers such as KikiClothing, Afro Mod Trends, Chempe Bre; music from artists from Rhian Benson, Samini and Jayso; and even mentioned some of Africa's writing talent such as 'Ghana Must Go' creator Taiye Selassi and 'Americanah' author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie]. 

NA: We are hoping to shoot sometime in the next few months. And in terms of the cast, we are definitely working on interesting storylines that the characters have to navigate through.

MB: And longer term?
NA: Setting aside budget constraints, I would love to see more African cities represented in the show. It would be lovely if the girls took a business trip to Lagos, a romantic trip to Kigali, or a conference in Nairobi. That is our ultimate goal.

MB: Will we see men playing a more central role?
NA: Well, Nana Yaa will have a serious boyfriend and Makena will be dating Stefan.But I think it is ok if we focus on women. 

Listen, African men have ignored us for so long, When the West writes books on the best African stories - most of those collections will be just stories by African men. When African men consolidate collections - 'best stories out of Africa', they tend to forget about African women. So I think it is ok if 'An African City' has five female leads. It's ok and I don’t think the show should apologies for that.

MB: Could you see this show becoming a global brand? 
NA: One of my favourite comments on YouTube was from somebody who wrote: ‘I’m a Puerto Rican American born in New York but live in Italy. What do I have in common with all these girls? Everything!’
That’s my favourite quote because it shows that it’s an African story or a story for African women but it's a story that's still for everyone. It's a universal story and that melts my heart when I read that comment.

Want to see more? Why not click here and see the series for yourself ......and tell me if you think the show has made African TV sexier. 
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong

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