From a multicolored lace wig, to licking a bald man’s head, to a cat fight, it’s no surprise that Netflix’s first African reality series was a huge hit with fans.
Pace Hyde, the British-Ghanaian creator behind the show, spoke to BBC presenter Cecilia Macaulay about her past life as a teacher, her struggles as a single woman working in African media and championing Young, Famous & African as authentic and vital content for The Continent Today.
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Located in what actors describe as the richest square mile in Africa, Young Famous & African is discrediting the continent’s media stereotype.
With its own planes, flashy luxury cars, and elaborate costumes, the seven-part series is a lavish spectacle.
It is based in Sandton, Johannesburg, and houses ten rich African celebrities, mostly from South Africa and Nigeria, but also from Uganda and Tanzania.
The cast includes such household names as musicians 2Baba, formerly known as 2face, and Diamond Platnumz.
But the woman who created this world of wealth and magic for Netflix didn’t always experience this lifestyle herself.
Pace Hyde, now dubbed the “African Media Mogul”, started her career in a different field.
She worked for a British children’s charity, where she dealt with drug addiction.
“It was so intense. I couldn’t do it on an emotional level,” she says, sitting across from me in flowy black clothes, with shiny, straight hair, perfectly matte makeup, and long, manicured nails in a nude colour.
Strict teacher, awesome actress
Hyde then decided to teach science to teenagers at a school in London.
Although she likes it, she feels dissatisfied when students tell her that she is too good to stay in class. You remember that moment well.
“I was teaching them about digestion and I took a Big Macburger and put it in my pantyhose to show them,” she remembers, laughing.
She remembers that even though she was “too strict,” her students really liked her.
“Someone said to me, ‘You know miss, we think you’re really great, but don’t you think you should do more? “
This note struck a chord. She spent her working days telling her students to make their dreams come true, but she didn’t do the same.
“It resonated on another level,” she says.
Hyde decides to move to Ghana, the home country of her parents, and seeks to work as an actress, but soon discovers that she has no talent for it. Retreating from the thought of having to talk about it, she gasps and murmurs in her breath, “Let’s not do this part.”
“It was awful,” she exclaims. “I used to feel at peace with a bad wig and bad makeup,” she jokes.
Quickly discovering that her true talents lay behind the cameras, she focused her energy on writing and producing content as a reporter for Forbes Africa.
After an interview with an African entrepreneur, she came up with the idea to create Young, Famous & African.
Soon, Hyde and co-creator Martin Asari-Amanqua reached out to major chains, mainly in the United States. They liked the idea, but wanted to steer the show in a direction that didn’t align well with Hyde.
“We’ve found that a lot of people have a preconceived notion of Africa,” she says, and some networks ask her to bring a certain “Black is King” energy to the show, referring to the visual album. The name Beyoncé, which is characterized by elements of African culture. This idea has been criticized, with some believing it to be a cultural property, although Beyoncé’s supporters have denied it.
Hyde appears unmoved by the memory of “Black is King energy” and humorously performs a famous lewd 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 — purely African and unscripted, she explains.
But not everyone accepts the idea that the show represents the culture of African celebrities.
“The only people I knew when I started watching it were Diamond Platnumz, Swanky and Annie. After those three, I had no idea the others,” says 21-year-old Nigerian student Shula Adido Oladotun and TV critic.
He also wondered why the cast is from such a small number of African countries: “Most of the cast are from South Africa and Nigeria, well, what’s the point? New? — but I’d really like to discover other African cultures.”
Hyde insists the show’s cast consists of the “stars”, including South African and Nigerian actresses Khani Mbau and Annie Macaulay Idebia, as well as businessman 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 teacher for about seven years.
“When I left for South Africa, I called her,” he recalls.
He tells her he’s on his way to filming Young, Famous & African, and that it’s “secret,” but he wants her opinion. I told him to “give him a chance” and do whatever he wanted.
Swanky had no idea Hyde was the woman behind the entire show. When he filmed one of his first scenes, he saw her on the set.
“It’s a dark room,” he said, describing the noise and applause in the studio as he introduced himself to the camera. Then notice the peace.
“Did you just hear the sound of peace in this room?” He remembers. He says he is shocked: “Are you kidding me, how are you here?! I was stunned.”
She prefers to stay behind the scenes, but remains a “strong player” in the underground work, he said.
Ms. Hyde rejects criticism that the cast does not adequately represent different African countries. She considers that Africans are the same people and are not interested in different nationalities.
“I don’t have a rivalry between Ghana and Naija (Nigeria) or between Kenya and Uganda,” she says. “That’s why the show was called Young, Famous & African, because it’s a celebration of Africa for the whole world,” she continues.
In what many describe as a refreshing event on the continent that eschews stories of corruption and insecurity, Hyde says his stature in the media industry does not create content focused on the problems Africans face in their daily lives.
Instead, she wants to entertain and inspire young people across the continent.
“I feel we all have a voice, and while some hold politicians to account, others inspire the next generation of Africans by showing what hard and honest work can produce,” she added.
However, Hyde’s path to making Netflix history as the creator of Africa’s first reality TV series and serving as a media executive for Forbes Africa wasn’t always easy.
She had to deal with some culture shock when she moved from the UK to Ghana.
“I think the biggest challenge for me was understanding that I have very high ambitions and it wasn’t always good,” she says, referring to people who have wondered how it is possible to become a wife and mother with such ambitious career goals.
Ms Hyde says she understands where those wondering about her come from, but it hasn’t been easy: “There have been so many challenges in terms of mentality and in terms of being able to go to certain plays, and the opportunities as a single woman….it has been a hike” .