African City, Sex and the Single Worldview – 2014/10/08

An African City dubbed, Africa’s answer to Sex in the City has stirred quite a controversy. The hubbub surrounding the webcast drama seems to revolve around that old, but never exhausted debate: how far should Africans go in adopting the cultural mores of Europeans? Of course, this prompts further questions, including: what does that mean? Who decides what the standards are? And is this just another social pressure on women and girls to conform to patriarchy?

Regrettably, this article can settle none of these enduring questions. However, the good news is that it can add a few more to the mix and add some global context to spice things up a bit. Let’s consider hair politics: in the USA and UK, a significant and growing minority of black women reject straightened, relaxed and otherwise chemically treated hair. They and their supporters argue that all of these, including wigs, Brazilian hair weaves and extensions, are embracing European, or at best non-African, notions and standards of beauty.

African women in the continent largely appear to have no such concerns. Alongside the dazzling variety of traditional hairstyles, there is a flourishing industry dedicated to selling women and girls extravagant, chemically created or weave added styles of every imaginable description. So, we have the paradox of women and men championing what they describe as natural, more African hair abroad, while at home their continental sisters embrace the widest range of styles without a second thought.

A comparable paradox has emerged around this glossy drama of An African City. Western black critics and audiences have dismissed it as inauthentic and superficial, noring its characters fixation with white men and their high maintenance appearance coming in for particular criticism. But there is an obvious counter argument: who are they to judge? After all, the argument goes on, most of these people so keen to snipe have never set foot on African soil and know little or nothing of the lives of the women the five characters represent.

But it isn’t western viewers alone who have commented harshly on the we series. Many Ghanaians (An African City is set in Ghana) and many other continental audiences and commentators have echoed the critiques of Nicole Amarteifio’s hit drama. But there’s the rub for all the critics; the show is a hit. The show’s nine episodes have apparently attracted an aggregate audience of over a million. This would be small beer for broadcast television, but it’s hard to argue this is anything less than an impressive figure for any web based show, never mind one that features five Ghanaian expatriate returnee women in Accra.

So, what are the business implications of An African City’s success story? Well, whatever your opinion of this controversial and well-produced show, it is indisputable and powerful evidence that Africans identify with characters who are business people. There is a great, largely untapped demand for aspirational content, that both reflects the successful lives of accomplished Africans and inspires and entertains those who would join their swelling ranks. Or to put it another way, there’s money to be made in affirmative and glamorous storytelling.

Have you been following the series? What are your thoughts? Post your comments on An African City below.

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