DRIPPING with champagne, diamonds and catty dialogue, two made-in-Africa reality TV series have transfixed viewers on the continent, showcasing ritzy lifestyles that are a far cry from stereotypical images of African hardship.
On Netflix’s “Young, Famous & African”, a group of music and showbiz celebrities from around the continent party, flirt and fall out in opulent settings in Johannesburg’s Sandton area, proudly presented as “the richest square mile in Africa”.
Showmax’s “The Real Housewives of Lagos”, part of an international franchise, portrays a group of glamorous, entrepreneurial women seeking to outshine each other as they go about their lives in Nigeria’s commercial capital.
“People have this misconception about what Africa is,” said Ugandan businesswoman and socialite Zari Hassan, who as “Zari the Boss Lady” is a key protagonist of the Netflix series along with her ex-partner, Tanzanian music star Diamond Platnumz.
“Why is it that it’s only in the States or Europe where we’re supposed to be seeing the money, the private jets, the Ferraris and everything? We have these things in Africa. This is the new Africa. This is modern Africa,” she told Reuters in an interview at her office in Pretoria.
Both series have been hits, according to their platforms, and have generated huge volumes of comments on social media.
At a recent launch event in Johannesburg for “The Real Housewives of Lagos”, the show’s stars sported vertiginous hairstyles, tight-fitting evening gowns and eye-popping nail extensions as they posed for photographs on the red carpet.
“For us, it was a case of ‘you know what, if they can do this internationally, why can’t we do it locally?’,” said Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content at Showmax, speaking at the event.
“We’ve seen the Nigerians, we know the calibre of women, the lifestyles they live, how exuberant and ostentatious and incredible they are.”
Showmax, part of the South African pay-TV group MultiChoice, says the series set a Nigerian record for the most first-day views on the platform when it was released in April. Six weeks later it was still in the top five most-watched series in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, Showmax said.
Netflix says “Young, Famous & African” ranked number one on the continent in its first week of release, in March, and stayed in the top 10 for four weeks in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
South African actress Khanyi Mbau, one of the stars of the Netflix series, said that during the gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic Africa had mostly been presented as a continent that was in a bad place, lacking vaccines.
“(The show) came at the right time after the darkness that we faced,” she said, speaking on the red carpet at the Housewives launch event.
“If you look at the world, our music, our fashion, it has filtered through to European countries, the Americans love what we do. So this show is actually to show us that we are truly the motherland. We are the sound, we are the tone.”