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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bosschique(ism): " Changing the Naratives of Young African Women" A Conversation with Producers of An African City

We are so excited to be launching the Third season of our BossChiqu(ism) series! This year we will do things a bit different and do our Bosschique(ism) on a quarterly basis to ensure we bring the top quality and insightful stories of Women who are making strides, shaping trends, and causing buzz on the African continent. For our first feature this quarter is with the producers Nicole Amarteifio and Millie Monyo of  An African City a new online TV series that focuses on the lives of five young African women who have returned to the continent in search of success love and all of the above. The show which is based in Accra has been termed the African "Sex and the City" but to us we see this as way beyond that! Picture Ousmene Sembene "black girl" fashion, mixed with new age Genevieve Nnanji sassiness, mixed with the bold, confident, veracity and dynamism of the modern day African woman and you have what we call a masterpiece. With an All woman cast and the show being launched by Women, We at Women Change Africa knew it was important to share the stories of the creators of the show with our readers. From sex, to vibrators, to love, natural hair, to working on the continent, the show highlights all of the various facets young African women are handling. Talking to these ladies made me fall in love with the show all over again, I enjoyed their authentic, sense of humor and passion they bring to life. We hope you enjoy this segment of Bosschique(ism).

INTRODUCING THE PRODUCERS:



Nicole Armateiflo Co-Producer 

Nicole Amarteifio is the Creator of 'An African City.' As Nicole pursued a career in international development, her love for film simultaneously began to form. As a returnee to her home country of Ghana, she found male-female dynamics intriguing and began to write, first with poetry, then with short stories and, finally, with screenplays. With the screenplays, she decided to bring them to life in an online webseries – hoping that women across the African continent would feel uplifted even if with just a few laughs. Concurrently, Nicole's work in development made her also start yearning for media that rejected the stereotype of the African woman as poor and dire, but as intelligent, modern and classy. With that desire, Nicole set out to create: 'An African City.' 
Millie Monyo Co-ProducER 
Millie Monyo is the Executive Producer of 'An African City.' As a New Yorker by birth with roots in Ghana, Millie's creative spirit drew her to Africa's first-ever web series; she believes in the cast and crew of 'An African City' and wants to see the show evolve from a web series into a full-blown TV show. She hopes this show will not only motivate African women throughout the continent and the Diaspora, but help to connect all women of all races, ethnicities and cultures from around the world.




                         THE WOMEN  BEHIND THE SERIES 


Q: If you were to describe your personalities in one word what would they be?

A: MILLIE: Charismatic

A:  NICOLE:  Dreamer

Q: Tell us a bit about yourselves  how did you both get into the film industry?

A:  MILLIE: My love of all things entertainment has always been with me since childhood.                  However, when I began my professional career as an entertainment publicist at Lizzie Grubman Public Relations, our firm was approached by MTV to do a reality show about working in PR. During that experience I found that I was much more interested in what was happening behind the camera then in front of it. My curiosity grew into a hobby and eventually into a full blown job!

A:  NICOLE:  My career path has always been in development communications.  But, you can’t spearhead a communications strategy without some component of multimedia or video production.  So, from video production I then decided to learn more about film – wanting visuals that reflected a side of Africa different from the single-story narrative often portrayed by the media. 

Q: What are both  your cultural backgrounds and where are you based?

A:  MILLIE: Ghanaian –American. Born and raised in New York. Lived in Ghana on and off for periods of time but I still consider NY my home base.

A:  NICOLE:  I consider myself 100% Ghanaian.  But then, when I get the “oh, really?” responses over and over again, I sometimes surrender and say, “OK, fine. I’m Ghanaian-American.”  Born in Ghana, but spent most of my life between New York and Washington DC. 


Q: What motivates you to get out of bed every morning to do what you do? 

A: MILLIE: LIFE! I love being alive and I am a very positive person. So the fact that I get to wake up and just simply live is motivation enough to get out of bed.

A:  NICOLE: I love being a creative.  And I love when I feel like I’m part of something big – something that can make a difference in some way. 

Q: As busy as you both are, especially with the amount of reception An African City has been getting, how do you unwind and what to you enjoy doing to take time for yourself outside of work?

A: MILLIE:  I’m always busy and on the go! My best unwind is being still and cozy in bed with my down comforter, a chick flick and absolutely nothing to do! Candy or chocolate always helps too. I enjoy being pampered, so a spa day or shopping is my go to! I absolutely LOVE shopping by myself. It’s my go-to stress reliever. If I’m upset or stressed, I shop!

A:  NICOLE:  Well, I love being busy! But, usually a break for me means dinner and drinks with close girlfriends…where I usually pick up on great material for future episodes! I also sometimes put my to-do list down and head to the movie theatre by myself. I like the solitude I feel in the movie theatre.  It’s an escape. Just me and the big screen and I let the story in front of me absorb me into another world.


ON FILM & TV



Our favorite ladies from An African City's  Cast

Q: So An African City just launched and it has been doing really well! Congratulations on telling such a unique story of returnees! What motivated you both to do this?

A: NICOLE:  I was tired of the imagery that kept circulating from century to century and from decade to decade about the African continent…about the African woman.  But, instead of complaining about it, I began to think about what I could actual do to be part of the solution. And, after while, I HAD to do it. I had to do something that might change the narrative and be another story to the many stories that are out there but not made visible by mainstream media.  When you think of the African woman, why not think Harvard Business School or a successful entrepreneur…or a woman who just wants to get her “American massager” out of customs! 

A:  MILLIE: To add to what Nicole said…I love the fact that AAC is the “returnee” 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 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 NY. Nicole has stayed. It’s our story and I wanted it to be told.

Q:  The show itself has all the cast members as women? Was this done intentionally if so why?

A: NICOLE:  This is a story about women, for women.  It’s what they go through, how they get through it and what you as the viewer can relate to…woman to woman.


Q:  In your episodes you make it a point to focus on issues, challenges that young African women on the continent face, from relationships, real estate, sexuality etc. some which can be deemed as controversial , Some people have even called it the African Sex and the City. What has been the overall reception of the  show by the African community?

A:  The responses vary as with any show.  There have some extremely positive responses.  I think the number of people tuning into the show is evidence of some level of success, that people like it.  But, the positive messages make it evident to me that we’ve done something right. I get emails and Facebook messages from African women around the world thanking me and the rest of the team.  For them, they rarely see beautiful and successful and well-educated African women on their TV screens, so it was refreshing to them. 

Others have said it’s not African enough.  But, what is African?  And that is one point the show is trying to make.  The story of Africa is many.  But, I like to think this show is 100% African.  The characters and actresses themselves are from the continent.  Quite often in Hollywood when the character is an African woman, the actress is not as in the case of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency or the Winnie Mandela movie.  Also, the majority of the clothes were given to us by African fashion designers such as Christie Brown, Kiki Clothing, Osei Duro, Ameyo, AfroModTrends, Deborah Vanessa, Afrodesiac and Chemphe Bre.  And, lastly, the music…all music provided by local or regional artists.  Which show makes all those components a priority; we did.  Which show makes it a point to showcase the talent of all African creatives from acting to music to fashion to the actual production; we did.  It may not be the stereotypical story, music, or clothing of Africa…it’s the non-stereotypical which is a good pivot point for our story. 

Others have said it only show a “certain segment” of society.  For many years, mainstream media showed a “certain segment” of society.  All television shows depict a “certain segment” of society. 
‘Sex and the City’ showed Caucasian women in their 30s.  ‘GIRLS’ shows Caucasian girls in their 20s.  ‘Girlfriends’ shows African-American women in their 30s.  Don’t all television shows revolve around a “certain segment” of society?  If these critics are making reference to these women being affluent, would they rather the same old story of poverty?  And, if they would like to see something in between, then they should go out and make that happen.  Again, there is room for many different stories.  All I know is that when Bill Cosby decided to create a show of an affluent African-American family, that DID something positive for the conversation.   

Q: Tell us about a challenge you have faced in developing your brand and how you overcame it?

A:  NICOLE:  I think we still have a challenge that has not been fully overcome yet: how do we convince the world to have another narrative of the African woman?  How do we change that conversation?  After just releasing the first few episodes of AAC, we see that people are stuck to one concept of the African woman and that is where some of the shock and disbelief is emanating from.


ON AFRICAN WOMEN



Q: In an article released by the BBC about the show and one of the main questions was is it representative of African women today? What is your answer t o this question?

A: MILLIE:  I think it’s absolutely representative of African women today and would go even further to say it is representative of all women across the world. We all want to fall in love and be in love. We have all been hurt and we have all had bad dates and amazing ones. It’s fun and lighthearted.
A:  NICOLE:  To add to what Millie said…it doesn’t appear to be representative of the African woman because for so long there has been one single story of the African woman in mainstream media. 

One journalist asked me:  “But, how do you expect African women to relate to this?  I mean, all the actresses are just so beautiful.”  I was confused by her statement and simply and sincerely replied: “But, all African women are beautiful…so all African women will be able to relate.”  Again, she was not used to seeing the African women as beautiful, subconsciously I felt like it was an unknown concept to her. 

Q:  What are some ways that women can contribute to helping out Africa via the film industry?

A:  NICOLE:  By going out and telling our many, many stories with a range of imagery and with a range of viewpoints.

Q:  Do you have any advice to offer to other young women looking to start up in the film industry?

A:  MILLIE: My best advice is to just throw yourself in there. Be inquisitive and surround yourself with people who know what they are doing that you can learn from. Be open and willing to learn and before you know it you will be capable of doing it yourself. I am a big fan of mentorship and always suggest finding a mentor in your field that is willing to encourage you and guide you in the right direction. Last but most importantly, Ignore the haters and push forward with your dream!

A:  NICOLE:  I did not start out in the film industry and I had no idea how I was one day going to pull off a show like this.  So, I just followed this one piece of advice:  Just write, the rest will follow.

Q: What can we look forward to with An African City?  And where do you see your work 10 years from now?

A: MILLIE: With an African city you can look for more laughs and further development of the characters. 10 years from now I hope to be doing exactly what I am doing now which is living my dream! Success comes in waves. I’ve been up and I’ve been down but I’m always riding!
A:  NICOLE:  I agree with Millie in that you can expect to see more laughs and certainly growth of each character, of each actress, of each member of the production team – me and Millie included.  In ten years I hope to look back at this experience and know that it meant something for the conversation about African women as well as the conversation about African film.

Q: Finish the sentence  “Women Change Africa because…..?”

A: MILLIE: Women change Africa because they realize their worth and are not afraid to step out there and take what is meant for them.
A:  NICOLE:  Women change Africa by their authentic truth, sharpened by their many beautiful – and not so beautiful – experiences.



Cast of An African City 
To catch episodes of Season 1 of An African City visit www.youtube.com/Anafricancity 
or visit their website at www.anafricancity.tv

4 comments:

  1. I loved this show and love that it was a different story from an African perspective. Everyone expects the same narrative but African women aren't a monolith. Great interview. Hope they have more for us in the future. -Nyamorabu

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  2. Great interview!!! Women really do Change Africa, and An African City is changing the perception of African women which I believe has been wrong from the beginning! We are strong, beautiful, and intelligent, and truth be told we are not all poor! An African women can have one cloth but will wear it and wash it day in and day out and look good! Yay to the producers of the show!

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  3. Good interview! I also loved the show for several reaosns: the production is professional, the images are clear, the sound is clean, the cast is physically diverse and the storyline is for the most part engaging. Also the producers touch on many modern day issues that young African women face: financial independence, career, perception on looks (natural hair, weight), safe sex, pursuit of love, big man complex, etc.

    However, I am of those who find the story one-sided. I am a returnee, I come from a high income family but my life is very different from what is portrayed. I had to take a pay cut to find a decent job, I had to live w/ family for more than a year to save before moving out, I had to lean on my parents to get a car. I don't eat out or go out for drinks that often. I don't hang out w/ the same people all the time. I don't only have returnees friends. Even though I have the purchasing power to afford a decent wardrobe, outings and trips, I also have responsibilities towards extended family and others to cater to their needs.

    I would have liked to see the cast mingle with and date non returnees. It would have been interesting to have a woman with a spouse and/or child b/c the experience is entirely different. One of the major ajustments made when returning is one's relationships with parents/siblings/family b/c of changes, expectations, dependency, culture/religion. Many people have to completely rethink their persona and values based on the weight of family's expectations. The ladies also do not seem to face the usual pressure from family to get married, that's another heavy point.

    And finally, on finances, the producers' portrayal of the ease in obtaining a loan or establishing a business is misleading. Many returnees pack their bags and go back to the West or elsewhere precisely b/c their projects fail or the don't get the necessay financial backing for their ventures. It's even harder for women.

    In short, the show has so much potential to remain beautiful and sexy but also to address the other face of modern life in Africa, which is finding the balance between traditionnal values, society's expectations and one's own ambitions and way of life.

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  4. This show was definitely entertaining visually. Very well done. I was immediately disturbed however and had a hard time shaking what I felt was a lack of reflection in the characters about the space they occupied. By that I mean they were central pieces depicted as highly educated, fashionable and interesting while the other non-returnee African characters were mostly the opposite--irritating and ignorant despite their education if they had any.

    I wondered if the characters were not behaving like "white people" who come to the continent and look down on Africans. This would have been all well and good if I got the sense that the creator of the show was making a critique of some sort (at some point in the 10 episodes) of this type of behavior and calling out her own characters for their hypocrisy and elitism. However I didn't get the sense that that is what happened. The characters seemed to be presented at face value and we were invited to admire them as they were.

    I wondered how someone who grew up on the continent and has had to deal with some of the condescension of returnees might think of the show. Would they admire the characters? Would they enjoy the show as a diverse representation of the women in Africa? In terms of being realistic I think that there are definitely women in Africa like these characters who return home and have these dreams and aspirations. I just did not find the characters admirable because of their at best dismissive and at worst condescending attitudes towards "outsiders". (Flashback to so many scenes of them complaining about lemon being put into coke). What would have settled this for me would have been a counter point character. Perhaps a Ghanaian lady or man who grew up on the continent who was equally as fabulous and educated in Ghana who could have called one or all of them out on what seemed to be their superiority complex as they were going on another long monologue of complaint of how they couldn't find a decent Starbucks--or anything else they were complaining about.

    Someone else to represent Ghana and Ghanians in their sufficiency and not just their deficiency as perceived by the characters. Just a little jab would have done it for me. However there was none of this so I guess I'm doing it here in the comment section.

    I also thought a lot about audience. Who is the true audience for this show? I know that many comments that I've seen show people applauding that finally "people" can see that Africans are educated, well spoken and dress well. But since all Africans---and educated Africans especially--already know this about themselves, are we really the audience? Who are the "people" who need to see "us" this way and how are "we" being represented to these "people" if they are the audience? Is this about reminding Africans themselves that they are well dressed or telling non-Africans that we are as good as and well dressed?

    If "An African City" is an internal conversation then I welcome it. My addition to this dialogue is to call on my fellow returnees to use this as an opportunity to think about our socio-economic status, viewpoints, identity and how this impacts how we view and treat other Africans on the continent. If we treat others the way the ladies treated, spoke of and thought of the non-returnee characters then we all need to do a little bit of soul searching because to me the attitudes weren't very pretty. But the clothes definitely were!

    Great work to the creators. It definitely got me thinking. Great show and looking forward to more character development in Season 2.

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