By Dara Mathis | Shadow and Act June 6, 2014 at 10:19AM
In the initial installment of this two-part blog post, I gushed over the new web series First and how I’m completely taken with it. But there is one more web series you have to watch if you’ve not seen it yet.
When I interviewed Nana Eyeson-Akiwowo for mater mea, she told me about "An African City," a web series featuring five beautiful African women returning to the continent to live. I checked it out and was impressed at how well written it was. Show creator Nicole Amarteifio mines experiences from her own life to produce a series with candid dialogue and a comedic plot line.
The legacy of "Sex and the City" demands that any female-centered show about modern single life in “the city” hearken back to Carrie Bradshaw and company. But I was never a fan of SATC. I have seen and heard descriptions of An African City as SATC set in Africa, but I believe its cultural focus positions it closer to Mara Brock Akil’s "Girlfriends."
Like "Girlfriends," "An African City" hinges on sisterhood and cultural norms for its episodic stories. The protagonist, Nana Yaa, is a young, American-raised Ghanaian searching for love and success in her native country. Her girls, Ngozi, Zainab, Sade, and Makena are a delightful complement of snarky, cautious, intelligent, and hilarious voices to Nana Yaa’s own alternately confident and vulnerable character.
"An African City" relies on a deep frame of cultural reference with the setting of Accra, Ghana, playing almost a sixth-man role in the narrative. Each of the five women spent significant amounts of time abroad in the US or in England and picked up more than Anglophone accents. In returning to their native continent, they carry Western ideologies in conjunction with their Africanness. The spotlight is very much on the women’s interaction with themselves and their countrymen.
And by countrymen I do mean specifically African men. Oh, yes; there will be sex. Not your steamy beast-with-two-backs-and-cat-scratches HBO scenes, but sex is broached quite realistically. One of my favorite episodes, “An African Dump,” deals with the politics of flatulence after sex in a way that still left me chuckling minutes after it ended.
"An African City" clearly has a winning premise, but it soars because it makes good on several promising elements of the narrative:
1. The tension between home and homeland.
What catapults the web series past rom-com territory is its unflinching interrogation of what it means to make a home of your homeland when you have previously identified as Diasporan. All the little details like housing, inflation, politics, customs (both airport customs and day-to-day living) combine to give readers a sense of the women’s journey settling in. "An African City" flirts with romantic entanglements but stubbornly refuses to romanticize Accra. It instead paints a picture of an imperfect location (struggles with electricity) that the women criticize and appreciate for its merits (food and culture) with equitable sincerity.
2. Wardrobe, wardrobe, wardrobe! And hair.
What would be the point of setting a series in Africa in you don’t showcase African fashion? The designers for the show do a marvelous job of dressing the five African women in modern, yet classic, pieces. The bold patterns, brights colors and edgy cuts are emblematic of African couture. Each woman has a distinctive style that demonstrates a commitment to three-dimensional characterization. Rather than dismiss the wardrobe as merely styling, I consider the creative attire an important part of a story that centers African women. They are stylish and they are fully comfortable with their heritage.
3. Wrestling with Western mores in a traditional African City.
I love that "An African City" challenges what it means to be authentically African from head to toe. The girls can dress the part, sure; but when it boils down to what an African woman thinks about her place in society, there is a rich conflict the show tackles head on. Armed with words like sexism and feminism, what space will they carve out for themselves as Western-educated Africans?
Amid all this, there are the comical struggles for love, self-respect, and the sanctity of one’s vibrator. "An African City" makes excellent use of comedy without reducing its own emotional honesty. If anything detracts from the show’s debut season, it is that the characters show marginal progression after 12 episodes of laughter and mishaps.
In 2014, women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lupita Nyong’o are practically household names around the world. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is poised to make a splash with the debut of the film Belle. All the above women are African with significant time spent in Western nations. "An African City" is a timely imagining of their reality, the reality of many in the Diaspora slowly finding and redefining their way home.