I am one of the women who watch the YouTube series, ‘An African City’. The series has been lauded ‘The Next Sex and The City’, a ‘ground breaking web series’, and ‘one for the returnees’, as well as ‘Ghana’s own Girlfriends’.
Now, as humorous as the show is, as a Ghanaian woman both educated and living outside of Ghana, I have to be skeptical about all this praise the show is receiving. Basically, these women are representing what I will supposedly look like in the next 5-8 years, and frankly, I don’t agree with the image.
Let’s get right to the ‘why’:
First of all, let’s touch on how very unrealistic this show is, setting-wise. If I ever decided I was moving back to Ghana, you can be certain it would not be into my own apartment that would require a two-year deposit, of anywhere up to $200,000, in advance. I’m not sure which returnee has $200,000 to spend on an apartment even before acquiring a job, but I’m extremely impressed that they could think up such a plot! And if Daddy, the Minister of Energy, is paying for that apartment, I’d definitely be questioning the integrity of his office.
But let’s just say you, a female returnee, have managed to excel enough in a society that both economically and socially discriminates against Blacks and Women (of which you happen to be both), and you just happen to have $200,000 dollars to spare on a two year lease while you figure out the rest of your life. Bravo. Now, tell me which of your Ghanaian parents is going to allow you to spend that type of money and live on your own when they have your childhood bedroom waiting for you (where you can be comfortably under their watchful eye)? Call it archaic, or sexist, or whatever you want. It simply isn’t acceptable in Ghanaian culture for a young unmarried woman to live on her own, whether she can afford it or not. If you have your own place, it’s almost automatically assumed some man bought it for you- be it your father, boyfriend, or maybe some other man that helps quell whatever daddy issues you had growing up. That is not the type of stigma any parent would want their child living under. Do whatever you want when you’re outside the country, but when you’re ‘home’, its a different ballgame.
Now let’s skip all that. Let’s say Ghanaians are a little more progressive than I’m giving them credit for, and they won’t judge your sexual chastity based on your living arrangements, and your parents don’t care so much about your whereabouts (HA.). I have a several problems with the characters themselves.
WHY can these girls not speak their local dialects? And some can’t even understand it! Like, come on. Not a single one can properly pronounce a Ghanaian word. It’s unrealistic. I know enough Ghanaians living and schooling abroad to know that this is the exception and not the norm. There is nary a Ghanaian parent who will not make sure their child can at least understand one local dialect – or at the very least some common phrases like ‘get out of my face’, ‘stop your foolishness’, ‘if you like try it and see’, or ‘who taught you that?’.
And then there is the background of the characters. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the majority of these actresses, in real life, are nothing like the people they’re portraying. They didn’t go to Ivy League schools like their characters did, and they didn’t enter the professions their characters hold. So what they’re doing really, is portraying a narrow definition for being a successful African woman that none of them is living up to themselves. These are amazing women who in real life all had great education and are doing amazing things in the field of Arts – why do none of their characters share this narrative? I went to an Ivy League school, and there is nothing I detest more than the image created that others are lesser because they don’t have the Ivy pedigree. And it just isn’t a realistic portrayal of Ghanaian higher education outside of Ghana. I know many Ghanaians who went to great non-Ivy institutions and have amazing careers- Vassar, Clark, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Swarthmore, Georgetown, Syracuse… there is no formula for success that says Ivy is prerequisite. and it is a silly notion to portray in a TV show that is meant to be realistic.
While I can’t forgive the character portrayal, let’s move past it. Let’s touch on the fact that these girls have NO GHANAIAN FEMALE FRIENDS. Like really. You all move back to Ghana and form this elitist clique where all you do all day is talk about what’s wrong in Ghana, how to solve it, and all the things you miss about the West. Please. Just stop. This image right here, perfectly portrays the Pan-African Dilemma. Unity escapes us. We ‘Afropolitans’ often think our foreign experiences make us more knowledgeable of the solutions, and more aware of the problems that exist back home. Yes, we might see things from a different perspective – and it’s valuable insight at that – but by congregating by ourselves and not including the views of anyone else who shares in the stakes at hand, how do we really expect to come up with all-encompassing solutions? But I digress. My point is, the writers could give these girls some Ghanaian friends who have actually lived in Ghana for a long time instead of this elitism we see on our computer screens. Lord knows they’d better be able to navigate life in Ghana, and it would make for an overall better plot that creates discussion stemming from alternate views of the ‘Ghanaian experience’.
*Takes long drink of water*
Next: Someone please explain to me, why all the Ghanaian men in this show are either not good-looking, can’t speak good English, act uneducated, or all of the three? I’m sorry, but this series is an affront to Ghanaian men everywhere. My Lord! And they have the nerve to portray the British/Nigerian/American men as educated, successful and hot! Now, I don’t know where these girls are finding these men who throw used condoms around helter skelter and think that you can’t get HIV by sleeping with a woman who looks ‘clean’ (maybe they’d find better choices if they had ‘actual’ Ghanaian friends to introduce them to more sensible guys), but MY Ghanaian men? The ones I know personally? They are handsome, highly educated, gracious, eloquent, and successful. So excuse me, but if you choose to portray characters that have bad taste in Ghanaian men, please make that fact abundantly clear.
While there are several other things that irk me about this undeniably witty comedy, I will touch on one more and leave it at that.
I do not get why this show only portrays upper-middle class Accra. We have become so consumed with telling people about the ‘Africa they don’t show you’ that we ourselves have forgotten the reality. You can’t pick one side and leave the other. While there is danger in a single story, there’s also danger in half truths. We are rich and poor and fed and hungry and clean and dirty and powerful and weak, and every other anomaly you can think of. By not portraying it all, we are pretending we don’t see/experience it all, and we are telling a lie.
I honestly feel like this show is TRYING to be the African Sex and the City. But we are nothing like Charlotte and whatever the rest of their names are. Judge me all you want, I actually can’t stand that show. I see nothing ‘feminist’ about sitting around talking about male conquests and testing to see if you can get away with a one night stand without being judged, and drinking while complaining about all the ways men are privileged vis-a-vis women. But I only watched a couple of episodes of season 1, so forgive me if the tone of the show changed over time. Point is, that isn’t our culture, and it isn’t the type of culture that would realistically thrive in Ghanaian society.
What hurts most, is that this is the image of Ghanaian women, men and society that we’re portraying to the rest of the world. While a lot of it rings true, there is still a lot that needs to be rectified in order to give an accurate portrayal of what life is like in Ghana.
The motivation for creating such a show, and the actual execution of it, is laudable. Really. It is no small feat. But they can do better, and should.
(Please note I didn’t even touch on the fact that the only character that upholds any ‘Christian values’ is portrayed as awkward and the group weirdo. *eye roll*)