By Ana Castillo March 9, 2015
There are many things to encounter when moving to Ghana from the United States but there is one unusual question that an African American woman has to ask herself, how do you ask an African man to use a condom?
One of the most controversial episodes of the online web series “An African City” is “Condom Etiquette” in which the show’s creator touches upon the issues of HIV and a man’s inability to properly dispose of a condom and a woman’s necessity to have a sugar daddy.
“That’s actually what happened,” said Millie Monyo the executive producer. “There’s women in Ghana with Sugar Daddies who are buying them $500,000 apartments who would literally sit there and tell us these stories.”
The Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture held its first ever screening of “An African City” on February 19th in celebration of Black History month and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Schomburg Center continued its yearly tradition of a screening with a panelist discussion, which is moderated every year by Rumbi Bwerinofa, for its 12th year with the goal to use films as tools to amplify the voices of African people.
The screening showcased the seven out of 10 episodes of the web series, which debuted on YouTube last March. Following the screening, Millie Monyo and one of the leading actresses, Nana Mensah, who plays the role of Sade, were interviewed.
The show started on the web but it is beginning to make its intended transition to TV now that it is being aired on Digital Satellite Teleision in Africa and some parts of France. It follows the lives of five single young women NanaYaa, Sade, Zainab, Makena and Ngozi who are all of African descent and have returned back to Africa to live in Accra, Ghana. Through the narration of Nanayaa, we learn what it is like to adapt to the lifestyle and customs of Africa after being used to the commodities in the US.
The idea for the web series began six years ago with the show’s creator, Nicole Amarteifio, who was inspired by the American series “Sex and The City”. She met Monyo three years later and shot the show’s first pilot after having an audition in Washington, D.C. Although she was very excited to introduce the new series, YouTube’s response forced the producer to rework her material.
“She was a bit defeated after putting that out because it wasn’t that well receive” said Monyo. “I loved the idea. It was something I wanted to work with, I had a bit of production experience and we got together and just started working on it.”
Monyo is a native New Yorker of Ghanaian heritage. She had her start as an intern for Lizzie Grubman Public Relations and rose to become senior publicist of entertainment and fashion.
“She hopes that this show will not only motivate African women throughout the continent and the diaspora but will also help to connect women of all races, ethnicities and cultures around the world,” said Bwerinofa.
Mensah is also a native New Yorker and will star in another web series called “The Walker”. She has had a friendship with Amarteifio since their years together in high school and was the first to discuss the idea of “An African City” through one-hour phone calls that began around 2006.
“There were many of those phone calls once a year for over an hour,” said Mensah. “I was always very encouraging but I didn’t have any way to help or facilitate, I didn’t have the wealth of knowledge that Milly has, so I’d be a sympathetic ear.”
Mensah recalled the excitement that the women felt after producing the pilot with a cast slightly different than now. Amarteifio collected funds to bring the three other young women from different parts of Africa.
“It was a real herculean effort, and then nothing happened,” said Mensah. “If anything we got creamed or panned on the comments in YouTube. If I ever feel like I’m getting too big for my bridges, I can go back to those YouTube comments and it will just take everything down a notch.”
Now that the show is on the run, it faces continuous backlash from a lot of Ghanaian viewers who believe that the show does not illustrate the lives of women in Ghana.
“The more I watch this terrible show,” wrote YouTube user Adam Thompson. “The more convinced I am that it is produced by people who either know nothing about Africa, or just hate it and all its people.”
Many are disturbed by the frank sexuality that the characters in the series display given that women in Ghana are very conservative. But the producers want to tell the story of the returnee.
“We sat down and started discussing what was going on in our lives while we were back in Ghana. It was literally the story of us; it was the story of Nana, who returned at one point. It was the story of Nadia, who wants to come back,” said Monyo.
Ghanaians perceived the show as being very critical of the lifestyle in Ghana, but the women want to make it clear that when they returned they didn’t know what to expect. Amartifio and Monyo did not only sit down to speak about their own stories, they also spoke to women who are already living in Accra, Ghana, where the show was filmed.
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