I am not your typical telly fanatic, the only times, I really get to sit down and be glued to my TV screen is when there is something really captivating on screen. So as I was flicking through the various channels, I was lured into another world on a series featured on BET, called Shuga. It made me realize that Africa has unique stories that should be told on an international platform. This series is shot against the backdrop of Nairobi; the storyline revolving around a group of city urbanites facing every day issues such as gaining popularity, promiscuity, striking a balance between their romantic choices and aspiration for a better life. Shuga wittingly depicts the realities of HIV in the broader society.
To my surprise Season One was original premiered in 2009 on MTV, and was directed by our very own Teboho Mahlatsi who is synonymous with productions such as Saints & Sinners, ISibaya and many others. Little did I know that I would be introduced to the Luminous, Lupita Nyong’o, who stars as the lead actor in the series next to co-star, the man who needs no introduction, Tumisho Masha. This was enough to send shivers down my spine, considering the strides this duo have made as actors in the entertainment industry to date.
Season One focuses on a modern girl Ayira( played by Lupita) who knows what she wants and how to get it. She develops passion with an older man (played by Tumisho) at the expense of a longtime lover Ty. It also looks at the life of two lovers Virginia and Leo who face various obstacles in their relationships but are determined to make it work.
Season two spirals around issues of rape, transactional sex and homosexuality plus a bunch of other issues to be explored included HIV testing, stigma, condom use, gender inequity and the role of multiple concurrent partnerships in driving the HIV epidemic. This season also aired some gay scenes that were meant to tackle the HIV/AIDs spread among the gay people. According to Georgia Arnold the executive producer of the drama series, the actual plan had to be pulled back to avoid controversy since it was a delicate matter in Kenya.
Shuga has since filmed three seasons, and the show has gained major popularity in most African countries. To date it has aired in 40 different African countries and internationally in over 70 television stations. I have enjoyed the quirky way of incorporated technology in the form of text messaging on screen as pop up messages which is another way to better narrate the storyline. The series has to date expanded its brand into other mediums from print (comics) radio, Skype, instant messaging services where fans can interact with the brand. The series has simultaneously featured local musicians and Djs’s soundtracks which make for more lively entertainment.
Our local soaps have in the past few years have followed the trend to cover similar topics issues such as HIV/AIDs, child abuse, alcohol abuse etc. in the storylines. We have seen similar series in South Africa such as Soul City and Intersexions, 4 , After Nine, Play sex Tips for Girls, shows that push social boundaries yet bringing truths that require social change and intervention. I look forward to watching more of our stories on the big screens and no one can tell them better than us.
Tralone Khoza @TraloneK