If you’ve been paying any attention to entertainment news lately, you’ve probably seen the online criticism of all Academy Award nominations for acting categories going to white actors for the second year in a row, i.e. #OscarsSoWhite. I could spew a gazillion words about racism in that, and other mainstream spaces. But I’m sure lots of more brilliant people have already written those thinkpieces already. I’d rather suggest some dope webseries by, for, and about black folks across the diaspora, that I enjoy. In putting this together, I also realized that I have never watched a webseries that focuses on a non-black minority. So if you have suggestions for great content by/about other diverse groups, please leave some suggestions in the comments below.Ready for some Black web series? Here are 8 that you should be watching: Click To Tweet
Skinny Girl in Transit (Nigeria)
In episode 1, we meet the protagonist, Tiwa, when she’s reeling from a bad breakup, and is having a difficult time attaining her career goals. As part of her life revamp, she commits to a new healthy lifestyle, which involves eating lots of lettuce, and more running than she’s ready for. The title is a bit deceptive, as her fitness binge is, of course, just a backdrop for the crux of the show, which is her budding romantic relationship with her new boo, who is from the Idris Elba lineage of FINE. #SheWon.
I found the first episode to be a bit slow, but from the second, it really picks up. The acting and production quality to be really impressive for a Youtube series. The episodes could easily be played on tv. And I am a HUGE fan of Tiwa’s mother, who is very much the stereotypical Afro-Caribbean mother who keeps exclaiming that God told her that it’s time for Tiwa to get married, she’s tired of going to other people’s weddings, and Theeee Holy Spirit told her to tell Tiwa to lose weight. Tiwa’s dimwit, but pageant-ready sister Shalewa also brings a lot of comic relief with her constant attacks on her sister, which are balanced out by rare moments of wisdom and compassion.
An African City (Ghana)
Often described as the African Sex and the City, this series should be mandatory watching for all of your friends who still think that everything in Africa is lions, tigers, bears and wars. (Fun fact: There are no tigers in Africa). The series centres around five Ghanian women, who return to Ghana from the West in their late 20s/early 30s, and navigate the struggles of readjusting to their homeland. They deal with the challenges of finding jobs, being judged for not speaking their native languages, and, naturally, finding suitable partners. (This is Sex and the City inspired after all). If you’ve ever returned home after diaspora life, this series should resonate with you. If you loved Sex and the City, you’ll probably love this too. If you’re into fashion, you will definitely love this, because these women stay dressed to the nines in every single episode.
The entire first season is available on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. After you get hooked on Season 1, you can sign up for Season 2 on their new paid platform, like I did.
Ackee and Saltfish (UK)
The great thing about Cecile Emeke’s Ackee and Saltfish is that the conversations the two stars have are exactly the kinds of conversations my friends and I have. It’s the kind of mundane black girl sister-friend conversations that we don’t see much on tv post Living Single (RIP to my favourite comedy ever), but are incredibly hilarious in our daily lives.
For example, the second episode is a 5-minute breakfast debate about whether backbread (i.e. the back of the bread) is the greatest thing ever. I can’t tell you how many extended discussions I’ve gotten into about pot-bottom rice with Jamaican people. And episode 3? Getting caught dancing in a store? Sounds exactly like my life. These girls are my spirit animals.
As an added bonus (for #TeamJamaica), the creator Emeke is a Brit of Jamaican descent.
Created by German-Rwandan filmmaker Amelia Umuhire, Polyglot takes us through the streets of Berlin, through Amanda’s eyes. Amanda is a young female rapper, who literally and figuratively is trying to find a home in Berlin, while missing her homeland of Rwanda, and her siblings in the West. It intersperses German, French, Kinyarwanda, and English – a nod to Berlin’s cosmopolitan nature, as well as the protagonist’s skill at straddling multiple worlds. It’s so sweetly melancholic that I thought it was a docu-series at first. (If you’re a documentary-watcher, you’ll understand what I mean). This is another series that may be a favourite for folks in the diaspora who have had to navigate dual lives in the West. It’s only three episodes in, but I’m eagerly awaiting more.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (USA)
No list of “diverse” web series could be complete without including the OG and patron saint of black webseries, Issa Rae. I could easily have made this article about all of her series that you need to watch. But I’ll focus on ABG – the series that started it all. ABG follows a black woman named Jay as she deals with being one of many oddballs at her corporate job, being a rapper-in-her-head (the same way your sister n’em think they’re Beyonce), and hilarious dating shenanigans. The last Youtube episode was uploaded in 2013, but the show is still so good, and so relevant, and its success (which saw Issa working with Shonda Rhimes, and selling a show to HBO) opened up the floodgates for many other webseries to follow.
I fondly remember going to the Magic Johnson Theatre in Harlem to watch the premiere of one of the episodes, and waiting in line for over an hour before my friends and I gave up on ever getting in to see the new episode. Yes, we waited in line for an hour to watch an episode of a web series that we could have watched on our laptops, in our homes. That’s how serious the ABG fandom was.
Quick: Think of your favourite black romantic movie. (I’m expecting something along the lines of Love and Basketball, Love Jones, Jason’s Lyric). You know the feels you got from watching those movies? First will give you the same thing. It’s like Teacake and Janie, with modern-day complications instead of rabies. It’s a beautifully saccharine story that will make you want to hashtag #blacklove all day.
Hello Cupid (USA)
The premise of this show is a bit ridiculous, but it works because the lead characters are so believable in their roles. A comedic, and ill-advised plan for BFF 1 to set up an online dating profile using BFF 2’s picture gets complicated when both BFFs like the guy who replies. Nothing tests a friendship like being attracted to the same guy, right? (I don’t know. So I’ve heard…)
I also love that Hello Cupid is produced by a production team that has, like Issa Rae, pioneered the web series-to-network approach. Their series RoomieLoverFriends, was picked up by BET, while The Couple was picked up by HBO.
Get Your Life (USA)
Yet another Issa Rae production! Get Your Life follows actress/comedian Amanda Seales, through what I can only imagine are semi-autobiographical tales of her experiences as a black actress in Hollywood. The series starts with Amanda agreeing with a friend’s suggestion to move to LA for better career prospects, and an escape from the hustle and bustle of New York life. The episodes are laugh out loud comedy, with a political bent. It’s the kind of show that will have you laughing before you realize you’re being criticized. A highlight is Amanda’s unwavering reliance on superstar guru Toprah Shanks (say it loud) as her guiding light. Wait, Amanda! Are you questioning our allegiance to our closest connect to Jesus here on earth, Aunty Oprah? For shame!
Another funny, yet sobering moment: A cameo from Issa Rae that ends with Issa driving away in anticipation of LAPD’s arrival, stating that she doesn’t want to become another twitter hashtag. (Think about it.) If you’re a fan of smart comedy, you’ll dig it.
Do you know of any other great web series I should be watching? Let me know in the comments.