In May 2016, the pilot for a new sitcom, African Booty Scratcher (ABS), now African Time, went viral on social media, amassing over 6 million views on Facebook and over three hundred thousand views on YouTube. The hilarious 3-minute video tells the story of a family of Nigerian immigrants in America who struggle to balance wanting a better life for their young son and also wanting him to maintain their traditional values and cultural identity.
In an exclusive interview Ventures Africa last year, Damilare Sonoiki, the creator and writer of the sitcom said the program is meant to help viewers see past the ‘African stereotype’, appreciate the story of the African immigrant, and also show how universally relatable their stories are. Sonoiki has just released the first episode of African Time, and it took a lot of time, money and persistence.
Ventures Africa (VA): Why the change of name from ABS to African Time?
Damilare Sonoiki (DS): The original name was meant to be provocative, like Black-ish or Fresh Off the Boat, but it might have been a little too provocative. We got a lot of feedback from fans saying they wanted us to change the name, so we took that into consideration. Also, you want a title white people can feel comfortable saying, and that was not the case with “African Booty Scratcher.”
VA: It’s been a year since the release of the pilot, why did it take this long to get your first episode ready?
DS: We reached our Kickstarter goal, but it was not enough to shoot a half-hour, 22-minute pilot after covering the production costs of the teaser (which we had to shoot twice because we re-cast a character) and after Kickstarter’s fees and other unforeseen costs.
But the original response was so overwhelming; 6 million plus views on Facebook, over three hundred thousand on YouTube, along with articles in BuzzFeed, Blavity, Essence, Ventures Africa and other platforms, that we tried to pitch the show to production companies that could help us get on a network.
We spent months trying to find a legitimate production company with a network deal, but everyone passed on the project. Executives did not “get” the show, and with Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat on air, there was a sense that there was only so much room for diversity on TV.
The resistance was discouraging, especially with how strong an online response we received. With the Kickstarter money depleted and production companies seemingly uninterested, it was hard for me to get excited about shooting more, especially since it would have to come out of pocket, but the constant messages from fans who wanted the show drove me to make this episode.
VA: So no major studio on board yet?
DS: There is no major studio on board yet, but hopefully, that changes after this time around. It’s easy to forget that Issa Rae made two full seasons of Awkward Black Girl with 25 episodes in total before she got the deal for Insecure and for her pilot before that with Shonda Rhimes.
Although what makes African Time a little different than Awkward Black Girl is that it is being made at a time when the production quality of web series rivals that of TV in some cases. Issa, who is someone I respect and admire, was able to make her program on the cheap with favours from friends and a much lower budget.
For African Time, we shot our teaser and pilot with the cameras and crew that you will find on a show like Black-ish. As well as with SAG actors and also with kids, which adds a whole other cost because of SAG rules regarding working with kids. So funding 25 episodes would be pretty difficult without a studio partner.
VA: Did you stick to your cast concept of keeping it all Nigerian, with new faces?
DS: We have the same core cast from last time, but we have an Asian American character in this episode. And I think for this show to be successful and eventually land on a large platform, we might need to add more non-African faces.
VA: In general, what has the journey been like so far this past one year? What have you taken out of the entire experience, personally and professionally?
DS: The journey has been interesting, challenging and fun. After the overwhelmingly positive response, I was sure we would find a home for African Time pretty easily. But I have learned that it’s not that easy, especially when a show is “diverse.” I’ve learned a lot about the industry and what it takes to get something made. So much of it is who you can get attached to the project as a producer, director, or actor.
VA: Are there other projects you are working on?
DS: I have a couple of pilots in development; one at TBS and one that was on HBO.
VA: You mentioned Idris Elba and Uzo Aduba as actors you would love to work with someday. Which writer, producer, and director would you love to work with in the future?
DS: Actors: Yvonne Orji, Uzo Aduba, anyone from moonlight, Drake, A$AP Rocky.
Writers: Kenya Barris, Issa Rae.
Producers: Oprah, Kenya Barris, Will Packer, Ava Duvernay.
Directors: Eva Longoria, Kenya Barris, Ava Duvernay, Chris Rock.
I’m probably forgetting a bunch of people.
VA: What hopes do you have for African Time?
DS: I’d like for it to be on a major network like ABC or Fox. In the meantime, I think we can start our own network. With the fan base we have, and with the relatively low cost of shooting, I think I can get enough paid subscribers to fund episodes. I’d like to be able to branch out and do other shows as well like Kenya Barris, Larry David, and Shonda Rhimes. Major thanks to the people who have supported the show so far!
Watch the first episode of African Time below:
Also, be sure to keep up with Damilare and African Time on social media: