A few months ago a friend of mine texted me a link to a Web series, “An African City,” a scripted Web series that followed the lives of five West African women returnees. They strive to manage successful careers, balance cultural traditions with “First World” sensibilities, and of course, look for love.
I’m looking for more episodes of this series, so I hope the creators bring us a second season! The first 10 episodes were entertaining, if a little derivative of familiar TV series like “Living Single” and “Sex and the City.” My favorite character in the series so far — the outfits. Truly, the costume designer/wardrobe manager is keeping these ladies in some fine threads, and everyone looks great. To me, the epitome of style and fashion is to blend traditional prints with cutting-edge lines, a la Clara Design.
The characters leave a little to be desired, and that’s probably because the writer-director has to leave room for external and internal conflict. A character’s flaws and failings are what drive stories forward. It’s just that the flaws in these characters — like why the always seem to be offended by local customs and local men — don’t seem to make a lot of sense. For instance, in the opening scene of the first episode, NaNa Yaa takes great offense to being mistaken for a foreigner by a customs agent. She indignantly rolls her eyes at him, insisting that she is Ghanaian — yet she doesn’t speak the native language, not even enough to be passably conversant. She is rusty on essential etiquette, like passing objects with your right hand only, not your left. What else is a busy customs agent with common sense supposed to think, except that she might be an Black native of England, Canada, the U.S. or Jamaica?
And that’s pretty much the way the series works. The ladies meet up in trendy restaurants all over Accra and decry the latest affront to their feminist First World sensibilities. It just seems like the characters flew back to Ghana but never really mentally left the big cities abroad. Yes, water and electricity interruptions are aggravating. I drink lots of water. Plus, I wear my hair natural (under my wigs, ha ha) and I can’t imagine not letting a steamy shower help moisturize my hair at night. But during Ep. 9, “#TeamSade, #TeamN’gozi,” three of the women are at a social dinner with highly placed government officials, and they brought oppressive attitudes with them the whole time. Ultimately, storming off and barking at their friend to follow seemed less about empowerment and more about being self-centered and spoiled.
Many of the characters’ flaws and baffling contradictions were all on display in that episode. For instance, let’s look at:
N’gozi: She is a Christian, and I appreciate that she is counted among the group. A lot of West Africans identify as Believers. But why was she written to be so vapid and whiny? I know few Christian women who are as angst-ridden as she is, or who let her harridan “friends” boss her around so much. Also, why do the characters have to heap so much scorn on N’gozi for practicing abstinence and vegetarianism? The former lifestyle choice isn’t a ridiculous one, particularly given the high HIV infection rate in Africa. Isn’t abstinence just another wise option for a woman “empowered” top make choices for the good of her body and her health? Also, N’gozi is not a proselytizing nuisance. She is a conscientious employer, reluctant to keep her driver idling while she goes about her whims about town with her friends. It just seems like the writer is expressing a bias against piety and self-restraint, and it comes through in the form of a tolerance deficit on the part of her friends.
Sade: I thought educated, resourceful women didn’t need to trade sex for material goods. Had Sade practiced her Accra lifestyle in Massachusetts, she would have been labeled a gold digger a long time ago.
And yet, if a new season is created and posted, I’ll be watching and looking for the same things everyone else wants. Bring on the killer fashions, the beat hair and flawless makeup, and don’t forget the cute guys. I just hope the show’s creators remembers flesh out the characters in a way that makes more rational sense. Return the returnees!