A group of beautiful, accomplished women are on the hunt for love --and great clothes-- in a vibrant metropolis.
No, Carrie Bradshaw is not returning for another run of Sex and the City. It's the story of the new web series, An African City. The show follows the adventures of five young women who've returned to their home country of Ghana after years spent abroad.
The stories of An African City may present a side of Africa that viewers have never seen before. But Executive Producer Millie Monyo embraces the connection to Carrie and company.
"It was absolutely an inspiration, and honestly we welcome the Sex and the City comparisons." She tells NPR's Michel Martin that creator Nicole Amarteifio was a fan of the HBO hit. "These are the stories of these women who are dynamic, running around New York City, and why can't we have that in Africa? Why can't we have that on our continent? Why can't we have that in Ghana, in Accra?"
Monyo explains that they "definitely wanted to tell the story of the returnee": young women who were brought up outside Ghana, but came home to get involved in the emerging culture of the capital city. That includes women like Harvard Business School graduate Sade, who is played by actress Nana Mensah. "She's highly educated, very ambitious, and she's set her sights on Accra and the men of Accra to succeed by any means necessary," Mensah says.
On whether characters are "African enough"
Millie Monyo: We felt that there was a story that was there...where you feel at home in America, but when you come back to Africa --which is your home continent-- you have people who look at you and say "Well, you're not African enough." And we weren't really sure how to respond to something like that. That has happened to all of us, where we show up...and they're looking at us like 'you akata,' which is, I guess, a slang word for someone who is African, however you were raised in the West and you may not necessarily know how to navigate life in Ghana anymore.
On how the show depicts money and sex in romance
Nana Mensah: I think a lot of people have a hard time with the explicit nature of the transactional behavior between men and women. I think that is stirring the pot a little bit. And so I am interested in some of the push back from that because I don't think that anything we are depicting isn't true.
On "Afropolitan" style vs. African stereotype
Millie Monyo: We're showing a different view of Africa that, for some people, they say they didn't even know existed. They didn't realize that there's people in Africa spending money, who have money --you know-- have the means to do these kind of things.They're not realizing that there's places to eat out. There's places to go and entertain yourself. And fabulous clothes! People have no idea that this actually exists on the continent and that's what we really want to show.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, you know we like to keep you up-to-date on the latest pop culture trends. So we want to tell you about a show that just might become your latest guilty pleasure.
Take a group of accomplished young women, all friends, making their way through young adulthood, throw in fabulous clothes, great-looking hair, mix in the twists and turns of dating life and put it on a game-changing platform, and what do you have? "Sex and the City"? No. It's "An African City."
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "AN AFRICAN CITY")
NANA MENSAH: (As Sade) Welcome home. The African continent finally has you back and just in time for the holidays.
ESOSA E: (As Ngozi) How was your flight?
MAAME YAA BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) It was good. The flight was good.
MARIE HUMBERT: (As Makena) And how does it feel to be back?
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) It is exciting, and it is scary at the same time. It's scary 'cause I don't know how I'm going to survive without Starbucks coffee. But I'm all smiles for now.
EOSA E: (As Ngozi) Well, instead of Starbucks coffee, on every corner you'll find plenty of fried plantain.
MARTIN: That's a clip from the new web-based series "An African City." It follows a young woman, Nana Yaa, who's just returned to Ghana, and her four friends. And by telling hard truths and hilarious stories about life in Ghana now, it's winning fans from Atlanta to Accra.
We wanted to learn more, so we have called executive producer Millie Monyo. Also with us is actress Nana Mensah who plays Sade, a Ghanaian-Nigerian who's just moved back to Ghana from abroad. Welcome to you both. Congratulations.
MILLIE MONYO: Hello.
MENSAH: Thank you.
MARTIN: So, Millie, I'll start with you. The "Sex and the City" comparison has got to be made, just in terms of women getting together, telling their business, telling some real deal, even if people don't want to hear it and fabulous clothes. So was that show an inspiration?
MONYO: It was absolutely an inspiration, and honestly we welcome the "Sex and the City" comparisons. So I know that Nicole Amarteifio, the co-creator of the show, was inspired by "Sex and the City" heavily. These are the stories of these women who are dynamic, running around New York City.
And why can't we have that in Africa? Why can't we have that on our continent? Why can't we have that in Ghana and Accra? That's why she sat down and started writing, and she just knew that we could tell our story in this way.
MARTIN: So let me just play a clip from one of the opening scenes that shows one of the characters arriving at the airport. She's going home.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "AN AFRICAN CITY")
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) Hello?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Unidentified Character) Madam, the line for the non-Ghanaians is on the other side.
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) Yeah, I know. I'm Ghanaian.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Unidentified Character) You are Ghanaian? You don't look or sound like Ghanaian.
MARTIN: Sting. So tell us about the idea of focusing on the born-here, live-there, back and forth generation, if you want to call it that.
MONYO: Well, we definitely wanted to tell the story of the returnee. We wanted to stay true to form. Nicole is a returnee. I am a returnee. Most of our cast are returnees. And we felt that there was a story that was there where you feel at home in America, but when you come back to Africa - which is your home continent - you have people who look at you and say, well, you're not African enough.
And we weren't really sure how to respond to something like that. That has happened to all of us, where we show up, and we try to speak our language. And they're looking at us like, you akata, which is I guess a slang word for someone who is African, however you were raised in the West. And you may not necessarily know how to navigate life in Ghana anymore.
MARTIN: So, Nana, tell us a little bit about your character.
MENSAH: My character is Sade. She is Ghanaian and Nigerian, which is great. It's a great set up. I don't even know if Nicole did it on purpose because Ghana and Nigeria have such a rivalry, like a big sister, little sister kind of thing.
So it's really funny to see it embodied in one character. So she kind of has this Ghanaian thing and Nigerian thing. She graduated from Harvard Business School, and she's now returned to work for a pharmaceutical company in Accra. So she's, you know, highly educated, very ambitious. And she set her sights on Accra and the men of Accra to succeed by any means necessary.
MARTIN: One of the things that struck me about it is that it tells, you know, some real stories about how women are getting along. I mean, the women are very upfront about some of their various strategies for success, you know, as it were, or kind of just trying to navigate their lives, I mean, getting an apartment when apartments are priced in a crazy fashion.
Like, a person just on a regular salary couldn't possibly afford one. So how does that happen? Now, Nana, your character, Sade, is very kind of open about her relationships with married men.
MENSAH: She is.
MARTIN: Well, what's her deal? Tell a little bit about her deal. What's her point of view on all of this?
MENSAH: Sade and men - where to begin? It must be known that she is the daughter of the most prominent Nigerian pastor in Lagos. So that - just put that the back of your mind as things develop this season and in subsequent seasons. So that's the one thing. She comes from a very religious background and has rebelled against it.
And, you know, like I said, she's highly intellectual, very well-educated and very capable of achieving things by her own means. But it's not as much fun to pay for it when you can get somebody else to pay for it, I think is how Sade feels. And so she does - you know, her apartment, her Mercedes, her this, her that, you know, she does kind of have a - you should buy it for me, why buy it for myself?
MARTIN: But this is not free. And...
MARTIN: I just want to play another clip if it's OK. I just - you know, spoiler alert. But you were telling us that one of your favorite scenes is one where she shows some vulnerability after she runs into her sugar daddy.
MONYO: Of course.
MARTIN: Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "AN AFRICAN CITY")
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) Who was that man at the salon?
MENSAH: (As Sade) It was him. It's the guy that bought my new apartment, my new home.
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) And who was that woman?
MENSAH: (As Sade) I don't know.
BOAFO: (As Nana Yaa) Are you OK?
MENSAH: (As Sade) Yeah. At the end of the day, I got my apartment, right? You know, it's wonderful until it's not. It's wonderful until you run into them in public, and you're hit in the face with the truth that you've been avoiding all along. That you're one of many when you should be somebody's one and only.
MENSAH: Womp, womp (ph).
MARTIN: Well, you know, what about it? I mean...
MENSAH: What about it?
MARTIN: ...Is this the life that a lot of people are living?
MENSAH: You know...
MONYO: Definitely. Definitely. And that's something that we actually saw firsthand, Nicole and I, being returnees and coming back to Ghana. We meet men, numerous men, married men who would be out in public with their wives, however, when they would see us out in other avenues, would approach us and say, you know, let's go out. Let's go out to eat. Let's do things. And it's kind of like, well, are we supposed to be the nonpublic wife...
MONYO: ...In the background...
MONYO: ...Just kind of playing a role, and you just want to give me things, and I'm just supposed to take them? And that's not what anyone's looking for.
MARTIN: Well, you know, Millie, one of the things about the show that's really interesting that - I'll just be frank with you - I don't think "Sex and the City" did all too well is explaining the power dynamics that come with money...
MARTIN: ...And what role money plays. I mean, one of the points that, I think, critics of "Sex and the City" always made is that, you know, a freelance writer for, like, a weekly newspaper could not afford her life.
MENSAH: Those shoes.
MONYO: Of course.
MARTIN: So she could not afford her life in the real world...
MONYO: Exactly. Exactly.
MARTIN: ...And that somebody had to be paying for that. So who was that somebody?
MARTIN: And so this show is very explicit about those things. And I'm just interested in that as kind of an artistic choice, Millie, you know, like, just laying it out there - look, this is how things are right now.
MONYO: I think it needs to be put out there. You need to know that it's a struggle out there for women alike. You know, how are they paying for these expensive apartments? How are they dressing in the latest fashion? Who's buying it for them? I mean, you see a scene where actually Sade convinces Nana Yaa to get a sugar daddy.
And finally by the end of the episode, she decides that she's going to go to Ghana Home Loans and, you know, take out a loan and get her apartment on her own because she realizes that she wants to do this for herself.
MARTIN: So what reaction are you all getting to the series? What are folks saying about it?
MENSAH: I think a lot of people have a hard time with the explicit nature of the transactional behavior between men and women. I think that is stirring the pot a little bit. And so I'm interested in some of the pushback from that because I don't think that anything that we're depicting isn't true. That's been interesting.
MARTIN: Like - so? How so? I mean, are people basically saying you all are making it up or that you're being trashy? Or what is it that people are saying?
MENSAH: Well, Millie pays attention to the comments a bit more than I do. So...
MENSAH: ...I'll let her take that one.
MONYO: Well, I think that some people may think that it's a bit taboo to actually put it out there. Even though it's happening every day on a day to day basis, they don't want to see it. However, I would say that most of our feedback has been enormously positive. There's tons of people who are telling us that, you know, we're showing a different view of Africa that for some people, they say they didn't even know existed.
MENSAH: That's true.
MONYO: They didn't realize that there's people in Africa spending money...
MENSAH: A lot.
MONYO: ...Or who have money, you know, or have the means to do these kind of things. They're not realizing that there's places to eat out. There's places to go and entertain yourself. And, I mean, they just didn't even realize that.
MARTIN: And fabulous clothes.
MONYO: And fabulous clothes.
MENSAH: And fabulous clothes.
MARTIN: Lots of fabulous clothes.
MONYO: Exactly. They - you know, people have no idea that this actually exists on the continent, and that's what we really want to show. So we've been getting a tremendously positive response from a lot of our female viewers.
MARTIN: Can you give us some hints about season two?
MENSAH: I would say that we're definitely going in deeper. One of the criticisms that I've heard is that they feel like they don't know the girls very well yet. And I think that subsequent seasons are going to aim to fix that.
MENSAH: ...To really create a bond between the audience and the individual characters.
MONYO: Exactly. I think it takes time to grow.
MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll be waiting. We will be waiting to see. Millie Monyo is the executive producer of the web series "An African City." Actress Nana Mensah plays Sade on the show. They were kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York City. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
MENSAH: Thank you.
MONYO: Thank you.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.