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‘An African City’ is the Modern ‘Sex and the City’ You Need to See, Warts and All

'An African City' is the Modern 'Sex and the City' You Need to See, Warts and All

When “Sex and the City” premiered on HBO in 1998, there was nothing like it. From the primary subject matter, to the unfiltered feminine focus, to the explicit dialogue, the Sarah Jessica Parker-starring comedy was as fresh and welcome as it was singular and important. But it also had a few structural problems. Carrie’s direct-to-camera moments were wincingly rough even when they first aired, and the cast chemistry took a bit of time to come together. But it was the voice of the series that mattered more than the specific delivery of it.

“An African City” — a web series inspired by “Sex and the City” that premiered its first season on YouTube in 2015, and is currently releasing episodes of Season 2 through VHX TV — is following in its predecessor’s footsteps — missteps included. Billed as Africa’s first web series, creator Nicole Amarteifio’s series follows a group of friends brought together by Nana Yaa’s return to Ghana after being raised in New York but born in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. Dubbed a “returnee,” early episodes in Season 1 deal with her difficulties acclimating to life outside the U.S. and the specific customs of the local culture. Nana (played by MaameYaa Boafo) struggles with the accepted notion of strangers calling her fat, just as she worries about accidentally insulting someone by using the wrong hand.

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There to guide her through the transition are her equally conflicted friends, each of whom carries her own specific background and opinions that align with it. There’s the conservative, sensitive Ngozi (Esosa E) — clearly representing Charlotte — and a Samantha who’s just as outspoken about and proud of her sex life as Kim Cattrall’s character (Sade, played by Nana Mensah). Moreover, these women get together for lunches and dinners to discuss their various personal and professional quandaries, with Nana providing narration to segway between their various stories. She may not have a newspaper job like Carrie, but we see her take on a radio show in Season 2 that could eventually serve the same function.

“An African City” isn’t trying to hide the fact that it wants to be for Ghanaian women what “Sex and the City” was to New Yorkers. It strives to be mirror the show many American viewers would prefer to forget (after seeing the abomination of a second movie). Yet what’s interesting about “An African City” are its problems; many of which are deliberate or at least unavoidable, and nearly all of which somehow manage to make the show even more of an educational experience than it would be without them.

First and foremost is the basic identity of its central character. For your typical American watching at home, “An African City” could strictly be a window into the culture of a world largely ignored in the popular arts. Nana, Ngozi, Sade and the rest of their friends wade through complicated issues ranging from bribing customs agents for shipped packages to whether or not it’s acceptable to introduce sex toys into serious relationships. But its the latter component that’s given predominant placement in the series, as Nana’s return home is in pursuit of a man (even if she tells her friends it’s for work reasons). “An African City” doesn’t shy away from putting romance first, even if its sprawling design opens up far more interesting — and well-captured — narrative avenues.

Adding to the idea of choosing people over preaching, the specific dialogue between characters is often just a bit off. Much like the four women in “Sex and the City” took a while to find their groove, this larger group doesn’t exactly have a musical repartee. Yet the awkward pauses or extra spaces add a rawness and authenticity to what’s being said, which is already plenty riveting on its own. Listening to these conversations feels like the best kind of people watching: smart, opinionated and diverse women engaging in challenging back and forths about everything from about the Ghanaian custom of men purchasing extravagant gifts — like jewelry and apartments — for women they’re casually dating, to what defines you as a “local” after you leave and return to the place of your birth.

There are also moments where you just want to scream at your screen in frustration over what ironically feel like “first world problems.” Nana breaks up with a man on the spot for leaving his condoms in the wrong place after agonizing over how to handle the situation with her girlfriends. Yet scenes like this remind you of when Charlotte dumped a guy who asked about anal sex (and was totally fine with not doing it) or when Carrie dumped a guy for wanting to talk to her…too much? These issues may seem like easy fixes with a little honest communication, but they end up telling us as much about the characters making the calls as anything else on the show.

All of this is to say that what may read as a mistake on any American premium cable show plays more as a way into this web series about another world. It’s unclear whether such choices are intentional, but seeing as they carry over from Season 1 to Season 2, I’m inclined to believe there’s a purpose behind the presentation. And that belief is reinforced by the ultimate objective of the series: to broaden viewers’ perceptions toward not only Accra, Ghana and Africa, but to the women and men who live there. It’s a rather brilliant stroke to make the lead character a recent immigrant from America because it gives her good reason to frame her frustrations with Western customs. That should help audiences dig into the story and appreciate its construction.

Even if the above issues end up bothering viewers as much as rewarding them, it’s important to remember “An African City” is still a web series. It’s not “Sex and the City,” even as it exemplifies many of its best (and a few of its lesser) qualities. “An African City” has some sponsorship in place now, and they’re selling episodes for the second season because they’ve put in the money to make it bigger (episodes jump from 15 minutes to nearly 30) and better (more discussion, more development and more ambition). Sure, there are some new problems that pop up, but what matters in this context is the voice calling out above the racket, and Nana’s voice is as strong, confident and impassioned as Carrie’s ever was.

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