I was ready to give Young, Famous & African, which debuted on Netflix on March 18, lucky. After all, it’s an original reality show from the streaming service, it’s set in Africa – and the premise seemed like fun. It follows a group of top African stars and media moguls as they search for love, build their careers and enjoy a lavish lifestyle.
But the constant display of character richness – among many other annoyances – annoyed me. Does South African actress Khanyi Mbau really wake up to someone acting The Godfather theme song on the piano every morning? Does Tanzanian musician and businessman Diamond Platinumz really take a private jet every time he flies the 5 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa, where the show is taking place?
Of course, the series is a global sensation. But if there was room for a second season of this reality show, here’s what I would change.
I would feature a wider range of famous Africans
Pan-African distribution is mainly from the entertainment industry. In addition to Khanyi and Diamond Platinumz, the show features Ugandan socialite and entrepreneur Zari Hassan; Nadia Nakai, Zimbabwean rapper of South African origin; and Nigerian actress Annie Macaulay-Idibia and her husband, R&B megastar musician Innocent “2Baba” Idibia, among others.
Speaking of 2Baba, he’s far too accomplished to be on this show. At 46, he is one of Nigeria’s biggest music exporters and has been active in the music scene since 1994. He has recorded several albums, owns his own record company and is a regional ambassador for UNHCR, the agency for United Nations for Refugees.
The 2Baba seat should instead have gone to an up-and-coming influencer – perhaps someone who is bringing about positive change in Africa. Like Babatunde Onakoya, the Nigerian chess coach and founder of Chess in Slums, a program that teaches the game of chess to poor and disadvantaged children in slum communities across the country. Or Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate justice activist. According to the UN, she has led a campaign to save Congo’s rainforest, which is facing massive deforestation, and is working on a project to install solar panels in Ugandan schools. She is a Young Leader for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, among other global events.
I would make the series have more of an ubuntu spirit
There was so much gossip and bickering on the show that I felt like I was watching The Real Housewives of Johannesburg. In the first episode, rapper Nadia accuses Khanyi of choosing a “settler” type venue for her upcoming ball. And in Episode 4, Zari talks about her previous relationship with 2Baba in front of Annie…at a party to celebrate Annie and 2Baba for renewing their wedding vows.
The show producers should have focused on the ubuntu spirit of Africa instead. It’s a treasured Bantu word that roughly translates to “unity” – an idea that community matters more than self. And it is a value that many Africans appreciate. Episode 6 was the perfect opportunity to show it. Zari invited the entire cast to take a trip on South Africa’s luxurious blue train, but the members kept arguing and split into two factions. Famous Nigerian stylist Swanky Jerry tried to step in and get everyone to make peace, but he ended up screaming and causing even more drama.
I would shoot the show in several African locations
Although the actors come from different parts of the continent, most Young, Famous & African was filmed in a wealthy area of Johannesburg. For me, this reinforces the narrative that Africa is a country. It’s like looking at all of Europe from the perspective of Paris. Africa is so diverse in its culture, traditions and people that it is impossible to give an accurate picture of who we all are without representing several countries.
For this reason, I want the series to mix up filming locations. Instead of filming Annie and Swanky Jerry arriving in Johannesburg from Nigeria, the producers could have filmed the two leaving Lagos, just so viewers would get a chance to see parts of the city, especially the notorious Lagos traffic leading at the airport. They could have gotten a B-roll of Diamond Platinumz enjoying the white sand beaches of Zanzibar, a world-class tourist destination in Africa. After all, the series is not called Young, famous and South African.
I would ask the cast to talk about COVID vaccinations
Yeah, I know, maybe not a good plot point. But as an advocate for COVID-19 vaccine equity, I am always looking for opportunities to inspire eligible Africans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Indeed, less than 16% of the adult population in Africa is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Africa CDC. It would have been great if the cast of Young, Famous & African used their influence to encourage young Africans to get vaccinated.
I would hire Swanky Jerry to pick out everyone’s outfits
Not everything was terrible Young, Famous & African. I loved the actors’ outfits, especially Swanky Jerry’s. In Episode 2, he looked like an African king in his glittering coat, gold chains, and shiny white hat, which looked like a diamond-studded crown. As we Nigerians say, “he made me feel proudly Naija” – the pidgin word for Nigeria.
Dr Ifeanyi Nsofor is a Nigerian physician and the Senior Vice President for Africa of the Human Health Education and Research Foundation. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Follow him @ekemma.