The Trouble With ‘An African City’

an-african-city-cast-620x400There is a new web series online called ‘An African City’, and if you have any device imbued with magical internet powers and any connection to Ghana in any way, chances are you’ve heard of it. Created by Nicole Amarteifio (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting once at a bazaar), the show styles itself after ‘Sex and the City’ and seeks to tackle some of the same or similar subjects in an African context; or at least that’s my assumption.

I was going to write this post 2 weeks ago, but I decided against it because I didn’t want to go on a rant about something another woman’s art. It would be better to let it be, I figured. But then the BBC came a-knocking (for my BFFFL. I was second pick) and I said some things and shared some thoughts on air that I should thought I should probably clarify on my own e-space.

By and large, people do like the show…but this is probably going to be the only place where you hear/see that there are people who DON’T. Until the third and latest episode, I was certainly among that number, and it pained me in a way I had never previously experienced.

I heard that the series was coming out two weeks before it aired and when D-Day arrived, I greedily clicked play and watched the first episode. Minute by minute I become more and more disturbed by the subject matter and the interactions between the main characters and the supporting cast, that supporting cast being Accra in total.

There is a very real phenomenon of separatism in Accra society that has existed since the 80’s. Ghanaian society, like many West African nations is separated by class rather than by race, and within each class there exist peculiar subsets. One of these is the Returnee – or Been To – subset. These are small, insular groups who spend half the day, every day, complaining (in part) about how poorly Ghana is wrong, how they have to yell and spit and be cruel to get their way, and cannot abide by the reality that *gasp* water can/does go off on a regular basis. They treat the locals as though they are inept and beneath contempt. These are precisely the type of people I try to avoid whenever I am in Accra…and now they were on my iPhone!

I was crushed. I desperately wanted to love the show, and I didn’t.

What was I to do? I asked for reactions from a few of my closest friends: women who are in the entertainment arena, who have returned to Ghana and/or have strong connections with Ghana via heritage. They shared my disquiet.

“Okay…is this show taking itself seriously, or are they parodying Sex in the City?” asked Ama*.

“It’s taking itself seriously,” I replied. “It’s not a parody.”

“Then I cannot condone it,” she said, her voice getting more and more shrill. “This is exactly the type of behavior that was such blight on our culture in the 80’s and 90’s. I couldn’t get past the first five minutes for all the caricatures and stereotypes of a Returnee.”

She talked for another 35 minutes and came to the conclusion that she would never watch the show again.

I asked Milicent* her thoughts and she was just as critical. She lives and works in Accra and has chosen never to live abroad.

“It was just too much Ghana bashing at the onset. It rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning,” she replied. “You know, I was sharing my thoughts about it to one of my guy friends who is connected to the show, and he dismissively suggested that the only reason I didn’t like it is because I was the type of Ghanaian who only enjoys watching ‘Concert Party’.”

To put it in context, saying one was the type of Ghanaian who only liked ‘Concert Party’ is akin to saying one was the type of Black American who is only sophisticated enough to enjoy watching ‘Good Times’.

I asked another friend whose opinion I value tremendously hoping she would tell me I was overreacting. She told me I was spot on, as far as she was concerned.

“Some of the situations are just not realistic,” she added. She referred to a scene in the restaurant where are the women were dining. “For instance, the entire table would not go silent if you took something with your left hand. Furthermore, if you were raised by proper Ghanaian parents, this is something they would have taught you anyway.”

That scene in particular really bugged me. I suppose it’s because I identify more with the waiter than I did with the 5 women sitting down to eat. Whenever I dine in Accra, my thoughts often turn to how these people make ends meet on tips and poor wages, how they cannot perform their duties because management doesn’t always provide the items listed on the menu and how flustered they often become in the face of abrochi privilege. I feel like the writers could have afforded these people a bit more dignity. I also think they could have tackled the enduring subject of erratic electricity and water with a bit more wit instead of engendering a complete bitch-fest.

Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty to love about the show if you look for it. The fashion is fantastic, it is well produced and a number of the actresses hit it out of the park with their craft. And of course, it gives many women in the Diaspora something to look forward to watching on the weekends. I don’t believe for one moment that the show’s creator meant to condescend to Ghanaian plebian society, but the privilege of those with power and access is that they have permission to condescend and dismiss, even if it’s unconsciously, and will be forgiven for it…usually. This is why those of us with power, privilege and access must use it responsibly.

So what’s the trouble with ‘An African City’? Like any media phenomenon, not everyone can universally agree to love it…which is a good problem to have. It gets people talking, and talk turns into publicity and publicity turns into dollars. I pledged to keep watching the show for three episodes before writing it off, and I’m pleased to say that by the third webisode entitled ‘An African Dump’, it had begun to redeem itself. You all know how much I love toilet humor.

What do you think of the show? Are you in the love it, hate it, or couldn’t care less camp? Do you think I’ve been unfair in my analysis – or am I right as usual? 🙂 Discuss!