From multicolored lace wigs, to licking a bald man’s head, to catfights, it’s no surprise that Netflix’s first African reality series was a hit with fans.
Peace Hyde, the British-Ghanaian creator behind the show, spoke to the BBC’s Cecilia Macaulay about her previous life as a teacher, her struggles as a single woman working in the African media and championed Young, Famous & African as authentic and vital content for the continent today.
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Set in what the actors describe as Africa’s richest square mile, Young Famous & African subverts the continent’s media stereotype.
With its private jets, gleaming luxury cars and elaborate costumes, the seven-part series is an opulent spectacle.
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg, it features ten wealthy African celebrities, mostly from South Africa and Nigeria, but also from Uganda and Tanzania.
The cast includes household names like musicians 2Baba, formerly known as 2face, and Diamond Platnumz.
But the woman who created this world of wealth and glamor for Netflix didn’t always experience this lifestyle herself.
Now dubbed “African media mogul”, Peace Hyde began her career in a different field.
She worked for a British children’s charity, where she dealt with drug addiction.
“It was too intense. I wasn’t able to do it on an emotional level,” she says, sitting across from me in a flowing black outfit, with shiny, straight hair, perfectly matte makeup, and long manicured nails in nude color.
Strict teacher, terrible actress
Hyde then decides to teach science to teenagers in a school in London.
Although she likes it, she feels dissatisfied when students tell her that she is too good to stay in class. She remembers that moment very well.
“I was teaching them about digestion and I took a Big Mac burger and put it through pantyhose to show them,” she recalled with a laugh.
Although she was “very strict”, her students really liked her, she recalls.
“One of them said to me, ‘You know Miss, we think you’re really cool, but don’t you think you should do more?’
This remark struck a chord. She spent her workdays telling her students to achieve their dreams, but she didn’t do the same herself.
“It resonated on another level,” she says.
Hyde decides to move to Ghana, her parents’ country of origin, and pursues a career as an actress, but quickly discovers that she has no talent for it. She recoils at the thought of having to talk about it, panting and muttering under her breath, “Let’s not do this role.”
“It was appalling,” she exclaims. “I was Peace with a bad wig and bad makeup,” she jokes.
She quickly discovered that her true talents lay behind the cameras, and focused her energy on writing and producing content as a reporter for Forbes Africa.
It was after an interview with an African businessman that she had the idea of creating Young, Famous & African.
Soon after, Hyde and his co-creator Martin Asare-Amankwa reached out to major chains, especially in the United States. They liked the idea, but wanted to steer the show in a direction that didn’t sit well with Hyde.
“We found that a lot of people have a preconceived idea of Africa,” she says, and some networks ask her to bring a certain “Black is King energy” to the show, in reference to the visual album. Beyoncé’s eponym, which features elements of African culture. This idea has been criticized, with some believing it to be cultural appropriation, although Beyoncé’s supporters have denied it.
Hyde seems visibly unimpressed by the memory of “Black is King energy” and humorously performs a famous lascivious dance popularized by the American singer.
Netflix was the network that agreed to keep the show – which was then just an idea in Hyde’s head – authentically African and unscripted, she explains.
“A celebration of Africa”
But not everyone buys into the idea that the series is representative of African celebrity culture.
“The only person I knew when I started watching it was Diamond Platnumz, Swanky and Annie. After those three, I had no idea who the others were,” says Nigerian student Shola-Adido Oladotun 21-year-old and television critic.
He also wondered why the cast was made up of such a small number of African countries: “Most of the actors are from South Africa and Nigeria, okay, what’s the point? new? – But I would really like to discover other African cultures.”
Hyde insists the show’s cast was made up of “superstars”, including South African and Nigerian actresses Khanyi Mbau and Annie Macaulay-Idibia, as well as entrepreneur Zari Hassan, among others.
Another member of the team is award-winning Nigerian fashion designer Swanky Jerry. He has known Hyde as a friend and mentor for about seven years.
“When I left for South Africa, I called her,” he recalls.
He told her that he was on his way to shoot the film Young, Famous & African and that it was “confidential”, but that he wanted her opinion. She told him to “give it a shot” and do his thing.
Swanky had no idea that Hyde was the woman behind the whole show. When he shot one of his first scenes, he saw her on set.
“It’s a darkroom,” he said, describing the noise and applause in the studio as he introduced himself to the camera. Then he noticed Peace.
“Did I just hear Peace’s voice in this room?” he remembers. He says he was shocked: “Are you kidding me, how can you be here?! I was blown away.”
She prefers to stay behind the scenes, but remains a “power player” in the underground, he says.
Ms Hyde rejects criticism that the cast is not sufficiently representative of different African countries. She considers that Africans form one and the same people and does not bother with different nationalities.
“I don’t have the rivalry between Ghana and Naija (Nigeria) or between Kenya and Uganda,” she says. “That’s why the show is called Young, Famous & African, because it’s a celebration of Africa for the whole world,” she continues.
In what many have called a refreshing take on the continent that eschews stories of corruption and insecurity, Hyde says his niche in the media industry isn’t creating content that focuses on problems that Africans face in their daily lives.
Rather, she wants to entertain and inspire young people across the continent.
“I feel like we all have a voice and while some are holding politicians to account, others are inspiring the next generation of Africans by showing what hard and honest work can produce,” he added. she.
However, Hyde’s path to making Netflix history as the creator of Africa’s first reality TV series and working as a senior media executive at Forbes Africa has not always been easy.
She had to deal with some culture shocks when she moved from the UK to Ghana.
“I think the biggest challenge for me was understanding that I had very high ambitions and that wasn’t always well received,” she says, referring to people who wondered how she could become a wife and mother with such ambitious career goals.
Ms Hyde says she understands where those who question her are coming from, but it hasn’t been easy: “There have been a lot of challenges in terms of mindset and in terms of being able to going to certain plays, and opportunities as a single woman…. It’s been a ramp up.”