Creator of TV series An African City Nicole Amarteifio visits Smith to discuss filmmaking and representation

Photo Courtesy Of tropics-magazine.com | Nicole Amarteifio recently visited Smith College to discuss writing her first TV show, An African City, her experience as a black writer and her new show The Republic.

 

Tyra Wu ‘19
Associate Editor

Some people avoid conversations with their Uber drivers like the plague, choosing instead, to ride in silence. Others take the opportunity to converse with surprising candor about things you wouldn’t normally talk to strangers about. Nicole Amarteifio, writer and director of the YouTube hit series, An African City, belongs to the latter.

“When I take an Uber, one of the most interesting conversations to start talking about is love, sex and relationships,” Amarteifio said. “It just connects to complete strangers.”

Love, sex and relationships are exactly what her show An African City is about. The show takes a Sex in the City-type plot and sets it in Ghana’s capital Accra. The show chronicles the romantic and work lives of five Ghanaian women. In particular the show focuses on NanaYaa, who was born in Ghana and raised in New York City, and has returned to Ghana to work as a journalist. Throughout the show the women struggle to adjust to life back in Ghana, from the frequent power outages, unusual love lives and ridiculously high rents. The first season of the show has drawn more than 3 million YouTube viewers and the second that aired on fee-based video platform VHX, made $20,000 in its first month.

Amarteifio visited Smith College in April to talk about her experience and host a global salon screening her new TV show, “The Republic.” During her visit she talked about her frustration with the media’s one-sided representation of Africa as a place filled with only war, poverty and famine.

“I’m really trying to change that narrative,” Amarteifio said. “I want to show a representation of black women that you rarely see.”

Amarteifio has received a lot of praise for An African City, however it was her first TV project, and initially, she didn’t expect such wide-scale success. Before deciding to write An African City, Amarteifio studied African Studies at Brandeis University and worked with the World Bank coordinating African-focused social media campaigns.

“I am a student of TV right now, and one of the ways that I decided to learn is to take shows that have been successful and mimic it to in the context of Africa. That’s what I’m going to continue doing until some point when I start doing some original work.”

The storyline of returning to Ghana mirrors Amarteifio’s own experience, as she was born in Ghana, and raised in New York. It’s a journey that many Ghanaians are familiar with, as many families, including Amarteifio’s, left their home country due to political instability. While the show was intended mostly for Ghanaians initially, the storyline about returnees adjusting to life back home has resonated with people around the world, earning An African City fans from Colombia, Korea and Bangladesh. As one viewer commented on YouTube, “I am Puerto Rican, born in New York, I live in Italy and what do I have in common with all these women? Everything.”

Of course, while An African City has received much praise, there will always be critics. Some of these critics believe Amarteifio is painting men in a negative light and focusing too much on the women. But Amarteifio isn’t fazed by such criticism.

“I’m not going to say sorry about writing a show that is heavily female based, or where the story line revolves around the women,” Amarteifio says. “Sometimes I feel like men want me to apologize for that and I’m not going to.”

Her work has earned her the nickname as the Shonda Rimes of Ghana, after the creator of shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Amarteifio is currently working on a new TV series called “The Republic,” which is about a political problem-solver called out of early retirement in order to solve an impending crisis.

Amarteifio will soon be taking her Uber conversations to the next level, as she has just passed her test to become an Uber driver in Ghana.

“I want to meet people and part of the writing process for me is talking to people,” Amarteifio said. “For the days that the writing isn’t really flowing, it’s just nice to talk to people.”

After all, Amarteifio believes resolutely in writing what she knows, and she knows how to write stories that resonate with people and represent parts of real life you don’t normally see on TV.   

“The number one thing about marketing, especially digital marketing is what will make people press that share button,” Amarteifio said. “People are going to press that share button if they intimately relate to something. There were a lot of people who intimately related to the story.”

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