You don’t have to be a rap genius to know that when Jay Z said, “only time we don’t speak is during Sex and the City,” it illustrated the popularity of the HBO hit amongst African Americans. Fast-forward to present day: Accra, Ghana, where An African City is gaining momentum. EBONY.com checked in with the show’s creator and executive producer Nicole Amarteifio on the release of An African City’s wildly popular second season and the importance of Sex and the City to its conception.
EBONY: An African City is being called the first African web series and the Sex and the City of Ghana. How exactly is An African City specifically inspired by Sex and the City, and is it truy the first African web series?
Nicole Amarteifio: I was sitting in Accra watching reruns of Sex and the City when I thought to myself: this is one way to fight the single story of Africa. I know the two may appear very random as a problem/solution algorithm, but it worked!
EBONY: Nigeria’s EbonyLife TV purchased the rights to Desperate Housewives and created an “African version,” but how is your situation different?
NA: It’s simply what inspired me. But at the end of the day, An African City has to be its own voice. At the same time, the art itself is, what would the original Sex and the City be if set in Accra and brought to life by women of Ghanaian/Nigerian descent? That’s the art. And I always go back to that. That’s my drawing board, that’s my compass. And when I am true to that, my art that I set forth to create is being realized. Anything else would not be my art. Anything else would be another show.
EBONY: Your market is very niche. You are on the web and transitioning into television. What has been the feedback in the market? Have women in Ghana been open and receptive to the show that highlights a niche, or have you received backlash for only highlighting a certain type of woman?
NA: Sitting in a restaurant in Accra is now a whole other experience. I am not sure if I will be seated somewhere and then be met with a screech. “[screams] We love An African City! We love what you have done.” And what has been done is a different representation. Women not typically represented in our media are now… visible. On global screens and with natural hair. Natural hair does not have to be reserved for women only playing a period piece on slavery.
EBONY: In light of #OscarsSoWhite, how important is it for you that Africans tell African stories or Black Americans tell Black American stories or trans people tell trans stories? Do you think it impacts the treatment of the characters?
NA: Let them have their Oscars. Our casting call sought after women from the African diaspora. The women we were looking for are usually told they are only good enough to play Store Clerk #3 or Prostitute #5. We were telling them, “We see you. Your worth is the worth of a leading role. That is what you are.”
EBONY: In terms of film and television, what does diversity mean to you in the African context?
NA: I dare to say women run Ghana’s film and television industry. Shirley Frimpong-Manso. Juliete Asante. Leila Djansi. Lydia Forson. Yvonne Okoro. Yvonne Nielson. Jocelyn Dumas. Yeah, I think we run it. Diversity is not putting hard boundaries on Africanism. Until you have walked in my shoes, do not tell me my experience is not “African enough” or that the show I have created is not African enough.
EBONY: Please explain how EbonyLife picked up your show from the Internet episodes and offered you a licensing deal, and what other deals have come your way from your Internet approach?
NA: They sent an email. Canal Afrique reached out, and have dubbed both seasons one and two in French. IrokoTV, Reel African and several other platforms simply saw the show on YouTube and emailed the contact info on our website. Our fans really help! Some TV networks reach out after fans accost them at speaking events to ask why our show is not on their network. We have had talks with BET; that would be great if it works out! I would love the show to be visible among a wider TV audience.
EBONY: You have created a production company that successfully completed one season of An African City, and now you have completed season two. What were three of the greatest challenges you faced as an independent producer balancing between the U.S. and Africa, and how did you deal with them?
NA: Funding was certainly an issue. So, for season one, I finally just decided to save. And even when my savings was not enough for the entire project, we just went ahead and started with what we had. I guess that’s the first step of faith, right? To just take that first step.
Because of the success of season one, season two was significantly easier. Companies approached us for product placement. Networks approached us about co-production deals and/or licensing deals. But being that we needed to recoup from our losses of having season one available for free on YouTube, we decided to keep the online rights and host season two content on our new VHX platform: www.anafricancity.vhx.tv. That certainly has been a great ride. We made more in a 24-hour period on VHX than we did our two years (and two million views) on YouTube.
Another issue: stay strong. Certain executives will come to you with deals that you know are not fair to you. For me, I would say no. I would say no and something right—and beyond fair—would then come along. Know the value of your art. If someone else doesn’t value it, that’s their problem, not yours. And don’t make it yours. Just say #ByeKofi.
EBONY: The fact that you are getting responses from around the world shows that you’ve hit a chord with many people who are returning home. How are you adapting your business model to monetize the worldwide interest in the show, beyond making viewers pay for season two? It’s difficult to make someone pay for something they once received for free. Have you received backlash?
NA: We should be doing more. We have fans who write us from Brazil or Angola wanting the show dubbed in Portuguese. The team has just not had the time to sit down and make that happen. But for us, the VHX platform has been a perfect fit. It allows our online viewers to watch us sitting in any country in the world.
There are some people who have been upset that season two is now monetized. They are not our fans. It’s like love, I guess. You find out who truly loves you. But the numbers show us that this was the right path. Our true supporters have really come through.
EBONY: What is the end game for you and An African City?
NA: It shouldn’t stop with An African City. There will be more stories. Other stories. Stay tuned!