A new Internet series has made a splash, and it’s frequently described as Africa’s answer to Sex and the City. An African City is set in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, and follows the lives and loves of five successful African females who return to the continent after spending much of their adult life abroad in the U.S. and U.K.
Created by Nicole Amarteifio and Millie Monyo, the duo have utilized millennial methods as well as traditional means to get the world buzzing about their boundary pushing show. Alongside director Dickson Dzakpasu, the trio are focused on entertaining the masses, changing public perceptions on how Africans are viewed, and fostering a discussion-inducing look at relationships within the continent.
Each episode of An African City continues to grow in awareness, exposing viewers to an on-the-ground look at Accra, its language and customs. Starring Esosa Edosomwan, Maame Adjei, Nana Mensah, Marie Humbert, and MaameYaa Boafo, the show provides soul-searching commentary that women in any part of the world can relate to.
Critics have questioned whether the show is only focusing on a certain segment of African woman, as each character has a respectable level of success. But, as our exclusive interview with Nicole Amarteifio and Millie Monyo shows, “certain segments” have proliferated all of the great television shows aimed at women—from Sex and the City to Girlfriends.
With the increased new-media capabilities come opportunities to crack the rigid TV code. Amarteifio and Monyo join the ranks of Dennis Dortch (Black & Sexy TV) and Awkward Black Girl’s Issa Rae in creating interesting content for the next-gen audience. In our chat, Amarteifio and Monyo describe An African City’s origins, respond to skeptics and criticism, and explain how “An African Dump” will spark the discussion to improve male-female relations.
EBONY: How important was it to focus the show from the perspective of a returnee? What elements within An African City aim to separate the show from the Sex and the City comparisons?
Millie Monyo: For me, I loved the fact that it was the returnee’s story. When I started my own business, I always had a thought in the back of my mind to return to Ghana, and wondered how I’d be received and if I would be able to be successful there. Even though I thought of Accra as my second home, I wondered if I would be a fish out of water. I tried it in 2012 for a year and somehow ended up back in New York. Nicole has stayed, but it’s our story and it needs to be told.
To be honest, Sex and the City is still my favorite show! The comparisons are flattering and warranted! I love how open and honest Sex and the City was, and how I was able to connect to the characters. To see it now with my own sisters and with an African twist is an absolute pleasure!
EBONY: As viewers get acquainted with the show, how do you respond to comments that An African City only represents a “certain segment” of African women in society?
MM: Doesn’t every show only show a “certain segment”?
Nicole Amarteifio: Exactly. Sex and the City was four Caucasian women in their 30s. The show was criticized for having no woman of color, but then look at what happened? In Sex and the City the movie, they introduce Jennifer Hudson… as a personal assistant.
If felt forced and, although it remains one of my favorite shows, that critique was handled in a way that then perpetuated the stereotype of the Black woman. I feel many Black women wanted a Jennifer Hudson who was on par with the other leading ladies and wearing Monolos—not a Jennifer Hudson who was responsible for organizing the Monolos in someone else’s closet.
So, I will continue to write about a “certain segment” of the African woman, because that is the model for writing a sitcom. And quite honestly, it’s about time that that “certain segment” of the African woman be showcased. Why not? For so long mainstream media has shown the African woman as one who has HIV, living in poverty and needs to be educated about maternal and child health. That has been the reoccurring visual of the African woman. I want to change that.
I’m reminded of when The Cosby Show first came out. A lot of people complained then about the show being one “certain segment” of society. Well, when for centuries the imagery of the Black person has been one way, why not? Why not change that story? Why not pivot the conversation in another direction?
And, what does Chimamanda Adichie say? “The danger of one story?” One story does not have to have the monopoly in the conversation; there is room for many stories.
But when it comes to the African woman, this is where we are different and where we are similar. Yes, in a continent of 54 countries, there are going to be African women of all shades, ethnic groups, classes, languages. But what about where we are one? As an avid viewer of Sex and the City, I could sometimes relate simply because of my sex, because I am woman. As a lover of both Girls and Girlfriends, I connect on the basis of my femininity.
In the same way, with An African City, I believe the Nigerian woman flying business class has something in common with a Ghanaian woman who is sitting in Nima pounding fufu. A Ghanaian woman who is the CEO of her own company has something in common with a Ugandan woman growing moringa on a farm in Masindi. These women all have something in common: they have all been in love at some point in their lives. Knowing or having known love—that connects all women throughout Africa and the world.
MM: I love that the show displays to everyone that Ghana has amazing restaurants, culture, people and fashion! Accra is amazing! My people certainly know how to live. Rich, poor or middle-class, there are women getting their hair and nails done, shopping and hanging with their girls. We may show the segment that can afford to dine at some of the establishments that we feature, but trust me, everyone can relate.
EBONY: An African City gained a bulk of its awareness through social media. Can you both talk about your relationships with the Internet generation and how that helps the show increase recognition?
MM: I like to call myself Internet savvy, but I am no expert. That is all Nicole. I started my professional career in 2003 as a publicist, and at that time, the way we generated a buzz was through word of mouth, creatively placed articles/quotes, openings, parties and appearances. I have literally seen the introduction of sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube take a project such as ours from obscurity to global visibility.
It was so smart of Nicole to have the idea to want the show to be a web series, inspired by Issa Rae, who launched The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl a couple years ago. And being a web series helped to catapult us into the phones, computers and tablets of people everywhere. Our show has been viewed in the U.S., U.K., Ghana, France, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, and the list goes on and on.
EBONY: Each episode gives the audience an on-the-ground look at the culture, sights and sounds of Accra. What aspects are you hoping stand out to first-time visitors and natives alike? What idiosyncrasies are apparent that only Ghanaians would notice in An African City?
MM: The terms “boss” or “chale” may be frequently used. But the one major thing that I hope people pick up on is the fact that Zainab always orders a Coke with ice and no lemon. Somehow when it arrives, there’s always a lemon! This is something that happens religiously in Accra.
NA: I am just hoping people see another side of Accra, of the country of Ghana, of the continent of Africa. Again, going back to mainstream media, our show is about the Africa you do not typically see. In fact, when it comes to the B-roll, I wish we did a better job at that. If we are blessed enough to be able to do a Season Two, our B-roll will significantly add to that goal of showcasing the Africa that mainstream media does not show you.
EBONY: One of the most revealing episodes so far is “An African Dump,” where the ladies talk about their dating pet peeves. The episode highlights how men are able to utilize their wealth or status to appeal to single women. How are situations such as this able to impact the discussion between male and female relations?
MM: This is nothing new. Happens all the time from New York to Accra. I especially see it in business and always get a kick out of it. We still live in a male-dominated world.
I love that the women in our series have jobs and are successful in their own right. The men are an accessory! I think men in Africa as a whole would probably watch that particular episode and think it’s ridiculous to be dumped for such silly pet peeves. But whether they admit it or not, they also become aware that we as women are not so desperate that we have to stay with a man for the sake of just having one. It’s a great way to start that dialogue.
EBONY: The show delves into the inconveniences that others might view as “normal” in Africa (water rationing, sporadic electricity) and even ventures into the taboo. How do you see An African City challenging cultural norms? Will this be the show that helps to define what’s considered a compliment across country borders?
MM: I actually felt blessed to have lived in Ghana on and off and deal with these inconveniences. Seeing the lights go off or sometimes having to buy water just to shower definitely prepared me for traveling around the world to other countries. It can certainly get annoying from time to time, especially when you become accustomed to a certain way of life. But it also increases your appreciation for the conveniences that you do have and helps you to not take it for granted.
One thing that started happening since living in both Ghana and New York is, when I was in Ghana I would miss the East Coast terribly but found that the same thing would happen. And I’d miss Ghana while in New York. I developed an appreciation for both, good and bad.
NA: The show is just a show. When I grew up in the States, I spent much of my life in predominantly White neighborhoods. In school, when a “Black issue” came up, I would feel the heads of the teacher and all my classmates turn to face me—as if I, a Black human being, must then have all the answers to that issue.
Since the launch of the show, I’m starting to feel that same pressure again. Some of the critics who look at me see a Ghanaian woman and then say, “The show must do this. The show must do that. The show must be this!” for all women on the entire continent. I agree that I do want the show to break some ground. But I also think it’s OK if sometimes an episode is not looking at a serious issue. Sometimes it’s just about having a few laughs. It’s absolutely okay to laugh.
Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. You can find him on Twitter @HassanFvckry.