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'An African City' Web series generates buzz, dismantles stereotypes

By Faith Karimi, CNN
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0900 GMT (1700 HKT)
"An African City" tells the story of five accomplished women who've returned to their native Ghana after living overseas.
  • Creator Nicole Amarteifio sets her story in Accra, Ghana
  • She says she wanted to create a narrative "of beauty, glamor and intelligence"
  • Amarteifio says she was inspired as she watched re-runs of "Sex and the City"
  • She wanted the show to tell the stories of not just Ghana, but Africa as well

(CNN) -- The new Web series "An African City" is fun, trendy and over the top.

It's also breaking taboos, dismantling stereotypes and creating major buzz in the continent.

Set in Ghana, the series focuses on five glamorous young women who've returned to Accra after living abroad for years. They navigate the chaotic world of love, adventure and careers -- all while trying to reconnect with their bustling capital in spiky heels and fabulous clothes.

Fans describe it as the African version of "Sex and the City," a comparison that show creator Nicole Amarteifio readily welcomes.

CNN caught up with Amarteifio to find out more about the series and what inspired the former expatriate to do it. And the story closely mirrors hers.

Nana Mensah (left) plays a Harvard graduate who returns to Accra to work at a prominent bank. She\'s good friends with MaameYaa Boafo.
Nana Mensah (left) plays a Harvard graduate who returns to Accra to work at a prominent bank. She's good friends with MaameYaa Boafo.

Born in Ghana, her family fled to London in the 1980s to escape a coup. They later relocated to the United States, where she grew up before packing up her bags recently and returning home.

"I always dreamed of Ghana; Ghana was where I wanted to be," she says. "Ghana had color, it had potential, it had opportunity."

MaameYaa Boafo\'s character is a Columbia University graduate who returns to Ghana after years in New York.
MaameYaa Boafo's character is a Columbia University graduate who returns to Ghana after years in New York.

CNN: How did the show come about?

Nicole Amarteifio: I wanted something for African women, something for us and by us. I was tired of the sole narrative of the African woman being about poverty and disease. I wanted to see another narrative -- one of beauty, glamor and intelligence. I knew I had to do something about it. I couldn't keep complaining about the problem.

Why did you decide on this particular theme?

After returning to Ghana from the United States, I was sitting in my living room watching re-runs of "Sex and the City," and that sparked a solution to the problem: "An African City." I was first inspired by its model -- a Carrie, a Samantha, a Charlotte and, well, two Mirandas. Leading ladies being completely vulnerable and open in the discovery of themselves -- whether sensually or professionally.

Women are raving about the fashion and makeup ...

Ghanaian designers graciously loaned us clothes to use during production. I wanted this show to be a platform for all creatives -- fashion designers, musicians, interior designers, painters, etc.

African culture tends to be conservative, and sex conversations can be a taboo. But you went there ...

Yes, African culture can be conservative. But you get enough African women in a room, and conservatism can easily give way to what is real, to what is intimate, to what is vulnerable. And I think as a continent we are ready to bring down the facade and just be real. For the sake of the next generation, there are too many societal issues that need to be addressed in a real and authentic way.

"As a continent we are ready to ... just be real. There are too many societal issues that need to be addressed in a real and authentic way."
Nicole Amarteifio

Critics have said a lot of African women can't relate to the show. Thoughts?

Do we all have to be burned-out chemistry teachers with cancer to relate to "Breaking Bad"? Do we all have to be Italian-American mobsters living in New Jersey to relate to "The Sopranos"? In Ghana, my choices for film entertainment are limited. "An African City" is trying to be the answer to what is lacking in our film industry; it's trying to be of high production value while incorporating the stories of Ghanaians and others throughout Africa.

Others have said the lives of the women in the show revolve around men ...

Their lives do not revolve around men, but the show revolves around the part of their lives that does. However, if people really pay attention ... there is a lot to learn. Episode six touches on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act while an upcoming episode nine brings up training female cooperatives and fighting the IRS.

The show focuses on a narrative rarely seen, even in Africa. Was that your goal?

I wanted a TV show about modern, beautiful, educated African women -- sometimes doing unintelligent things or going through absurd situations -- but for comedic purposes. When it comes to the African woman, there is room for many stories. Stories that we --as Africans -- can take control of and share with the world.

What about this show unifies all women, regardless of background?

As women, we've all been in love. We are all looking for love. If you're a female CEO or a woman pounding yams in the village, you are trying to take stake of your love life. The love life you assumed you would have (because of societal/cultural ideals) versus the love life that realistically exists.

But, for me, a key unifying factor is nearly every African woman wants the narrative on the African woman changed. This show is one of the many ways to do so.

Why did you decide to go the YouTube way, instead of TV?

I loved that I would not lose any creative control to a TV network. I wanted to push some boundaries and I didn't want any TV network telling me otherwise.

Which brings me to the next question. Are you generating revenue from the show?

You know, for me, it's not about the revenue. Season one was really about just doing something in regards to the narrative, even if I had to use my own savings to get that done.

Best compliment you've received so far?

There are women in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora who have written me to just say thank you, that they are not used to seeing themselves on the screen. They are grateful and I am honored. When mainstream media ignores you or constantly tells you that there is only one type of you, you feel invisible. "An African City" is about our visibility.

Most misleading misunderstanding about the show?

I wanted the show to start a conversation -- many conversations at that. The one conversation I would like to address is when people ask: "Is this African?" But, that's the thing -- what is African? Or, what is African "enough"? In a world where you have African immigrants who are born and raised elsewhere, are they no longer African? Who decides?

Talk to the critics ... what do you want them to know?

I am aware of what they do not like about the show. But, I don't see those things as problems and they shouldn't either. This is our show -- the show for us as African women. We can all work together to make it better from episode to episode, from season to season. And to the fans: Thank you. Thanks for showing TV networks the kind of content that we are all thirsting for, and what we're all thirsting for is other narratives of the African woman.

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