The depiction of Africa in popular media is usually limited to images of poverty, famine, AIDS and, sometimes, exotic safari. Ghanain filmmaker Nicole Amarteifio has made it her singular goal to change that. Amarteifio, who was born in the West African country and educated in America before she became part of the "re-aspora" of young Africans returning to their homeland, is co-creator of the groundbreaking Web series An African City. Centered on five young, attractive and upwardly mobile women living in Accra, the series has drawn more than a few comparisons to Sex and the City.
We got on the phone with Amarteifio in Ghana to talk about the growing popularity of An African City, her own experience as a "returnee" and who in Hollywood she hopes will take notice.
Start by telling me a little about yourself. Where are you from and what inspired you to create this series?
Where am I from? Always an interesting question. I’m from Ghana, and I consider myself Ghanaian. Usually the next question is, "How come you don’t sound like it? Your accent sounds American!" That’s when I have to explain I was born in Ghana, but after the coup of 1981, my family all moved to the States. So, I have an American accent but I consider myself very much Ghanaian. Where I’m from, I’m from Ghana.
Why did you decide to move back?
There’s a blogger who wrote about how she wants to know why the characters [in An African City] moved back to Ghana. Just going home wasn’t a good enough reason. But for me, it was, because it’s home and I wanted to be home. This is forever. Of course, I will visit the States, but where I’m living, it's Ghana forever.
Many African-Americans don't know where their African roots lie. What does it mean to have that knowledge and sense of place?
It’s wonderful and I can’t imagine not having that. I love that I can go over my uncle’s house and sit around listening to him tell me what our grandma, great grandma and great-great-grandma did here in Ghana. It’s a wonderful sense of being, and gives you a sense of purpose, purpose meaning your purpose is tied to this country. It’s a wonderful thing.
Some may criticize this series as showing a one-sided perspective of Ghanaian life: these girls are educated, relatively affluent and worldly. What would you say to those who feel you're not accurately representing the population?
I think that all the times that I have seen Ghana represented on mainstream media, that has not been a fair representation. There’s more to the story than that. When Hollywood shows Africa, it's poverty, war and disease, and that’s only part of the story. They have not given you the full picture. I wanted to change the dialog.
The show is very bold sexually. Did that ever get you into any trouble?
So far, surprisingly, no push-backs. I thought especially after episode four we would lose half our audience. Rather, I’m seeing young girls say, "This is what we talk about and we’re glad we see it on screen." I think people enjoy that we push some boundaries. There are women in my mom’s generation who come up to me and whisper in my ear, saying, "Good job, keep it coming!" Ghana is one of the most religious countries in Africa, so I was expecting people to rebuke me, but no, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.
Tell me about the music in the series. You feature some great African hip hop. Where did you find it?
The way I see this TV project is as a platform for all creatives out there; musicians, fashion designers, or even a painter. Basically it’s a platform for all creatives to showcase their work. For the music, I wanted people to be wondering, "Who is that artist?" I wanted people talking about Ghanian music and African music. And it doesn’t have to be Jay Z and Beyoncé, even though I love them. It could be Lady Jay, Leon Benson, it could be all these wonderful artists. I just wanted them to have a platform.
Now more than ever, Web content can really be a stepping-stone to getting discovered. Who is an influential person in Hollywood that you hope sees An African City?
This is a good question. It would have to be Lupita Nyong'o. If she saw [An African City], I’d be touched because I think she is that modern African woman. She’s beautiful, she’s intellectual and creative, that’s what the girls in African cities aspire to be. I also want to meet anybody who can put financial backing into the project!
Check out the trailer for An African City below.
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(Photo: An African City TV)