A reality show formula has turned Young, Famous and African into a viral hit, trending on Twitter and covered widely by media outlets, as much for the bad wigs and lovers’ tiffs as for the competitive relationship dynamics or the cast’s net worth. While the general sentiment is that the show is a breath of fresh air, despite being another over-hyped celebrity show, some poor dialogue and seemingly staged friendships have resulted in criticism of the show. There’s also been plenty of discussion over the colourful back-stories of the talent. The Refinery had this to say:
“These new faces are mind-bogglingly rich, and flaunting that wealth is basically a second job — even for those who may have acquired it through sketchier circumstances.”
This take misses the mark, however.
You don’t have to scratch far beneath the show’s surface to realize that there’s more to Khanyi Mbau and her motley crew of celebrity friends; Diamond Platnumz, Nadia Nakai, Andile Ncube, Zari “the Boss Lady” Hassan, Quinton Masina, Swanky Jerry, Kayleigh Schwark, Annie Macaulay her husband, 2Face Ibidia.
These are real people, people who’ve made it on their own terms. They’re actors, stylists, socialites, rappers, and entrepreneurs.
“A group of friends living the African dream, living the lavish lifestyle that you want, honey,” Nakai coos, seconds into the first episode. It’s a life of luxury, ambition, joy, and celebration of African millennials beyond poverty, a side of Africa and its youth glaringly missing in news and entertainment content about Africa.
This show doesn’t just close a gap that’s been glaring at us for ages – a gap in African entertainment content with global audiences, reality or factual. It also offers a multiplicity of narratives from across Africa, all of them flipping the script on many tropes and stereotypes of the continent.
Exhibit A: They’re from South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. The global story of Africa is primarily told through Nigeria and South Africa, whether it’s business, news and entertainment. We don’t get to travel to these countries, but we get a glimpse of them. The Boss Lady is from Uganda, which has more women entrepreneurs than any country in Africa. Uganda is not an exception. African countries claim the top three spots in the Mastercard Index for the highest concentration of women business owners globally.
Tanzania is synonymous with game parks and wildlife. Diamond isn’t just pop culture in the country. He is the first African artist to get a billion views on Youtube. He has collaborated with Snoop Dogg, Ne-Yo, and Rick Ross. Annie is an award-winning Nollywood actress.
Nollywood is the second-biggest film producer globally after Bollywood, a market Diamond also tapped into when he collaborated with the prolific Diljit Dosanjh. Meanwhile, 2Face Ibidia has a spot in African pop culture for hits that travelled beyond Nigeria to the rest of Africa and the world. The cast is a window into Africa’s incredibly underreported creative industry and its impact on global culture, from film and fashion to music and art.
Then there’s the setting. Sandton is Africa’s richest square mile, and every visual of the show reminds viewers of this fact, from epic cityscapes and luxury interiors of the show’s locations. It’s an image of an African city that’s booming instead of decaying.
Exhibit B: Money is front and centre. They love it. They chase it. They flash it at every opportunity. It’s exactly what pop culture – an outlet for Africa’s youth – defines as success and making it. “The world we live in is a place of dreams from the squads we roll with, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and of course who we date,” Khanyi says.
The actress is infamous for driving matching yellow Lamborghinis with an older ex-husband. She ruled tabloid headlines and turned being called a gold digger into an affirmation – something she stated on national TV and which was then repeated across all media.
“Money recognises me. Money is comfortable around me. Money likes me. Money feels that when it needs someone to talk to, it will choose me in the crowd,” she said.
Africa has the youngest population globally. And yet youth is the least represented demographic in news and stories about Africa, including content about business and creativity. This show dispels the perception that Africa doesn’t have youthful, entrepreneurial self-starters who dream big, who make money and are happy to flaunt it.
Exhibit C: The women, each of them at odds with how African women are typically shown in the entertainment media in the US, which is consumed by billions globally. Powerhouses,” as Khanyi says. Words matter. Collectively, the words that we have used to tell stories of African women casts them as broken and dependent. They survive circumstances instead of running the world. Not this set. Their life happens on their terms and conditions.
And they use specific words to describe themselves. Boss Lady is a “billionaire”. Her confidence is “way too high”. She doesn’t care what people think. None of the women does. Take Khanyi’s mothering style. Her 15-year-old daughter lives alone in the apartment next door to hers. “I’m not a kangaroo. I don’t have a pouch where I can keep it.”
Exhibit D: As the familiar story goes, African youth would rather risk death to escape the continent for a better life in Europe. Africa is not the backdrop of opportunities and success. Young, Famous and African isn’t just about swag and bling. We meet individuals instead of archetypes of monolithic African characters. They are complex and nuanced. They grow. They fall short. Hearts break and mend. Diamond, for instance, has two children with Boss Lady, who left him after a cheating scandal. Nadia has a boyfriend in the U.S, but as Diamond’s latest love interest, the only reason she won’t entertain him is his hairstyle, not her relationship status.
Life is fun. But it’s also complex, nuanced, and a take on an Africa that, distant from real life as celebrity reality content requires, still succeeds in telling a diversity of stories that are missing about Africa.
We want more.