Kenya: Showmax’s Next Original Production Single Kasi (Single-Ish) Looks At the Complex Lives of Women in Kenya

London — Showmax’s next original production Single Kasi (Single-ish) looks at the complex lives of women in Kenya

Insignia has taken the South African drama Unmarried and reworked it for the Kenyan market. Its Director and Producer Grace Kahaki answered questions from Russell Southwood about the show, cultural differences between South Africa and Kenya and surviving as a production company.

Adapted from the hit South African series Unmarried, Single-ish (a 13-part drama series) follows the lives of three women in Nairobi – Sintamei, Mariah and Rebecca – as they deal with the challenges that marriage, relationships, and their careers throw at them. It also explores the strong bond of friendship that these women share, knowing that even when the world crumbles around them, they will always have each other. The show is also available to Kenyans in the UK, France and 31 other countries in the diaspora.

Q: What did you like about the hit South African series Unmarried?

A: I am such a fan of the show; the producers of the South African version did a phenomenal job. I found the show during quarantine on Showmax and the first episode hooked me and I had to binge all two seasons. The story about these three different women navigating different difficulties in their lives but still looking to each other as a source of support was very encouraging and I appreciated the nuances taken by the producers.

Q: What were the cultural differences around marriage, relationships, and careers between South African cities and Nairobi that you had to make in the Kenyan version of the show?

A: This is a very layered question. Nairobi has a terrible reputation for those in the dating phase of their lives. Nairobi is a melting pot of so many types of people, tribes, ethnicities, and nationalities. In my opinion dating has become easier here, especially with the introduction of dating apps into our society, and this means that the hookup culture has also increased.

This show focuses of women in their earlier 30s, and we want to explore what it’s like for this group of women to pursue career, love, sex, marriage and happiness on their terms. Do you have to get married? What happens when a woman cannot have children? How do you deal with sexism in the workplace as women?

Relationships everywhere are complicated, regardless of your background; the show showcases this. As dating evolves for us, some things still remain universal. The characters battle the expectations of society on women e.g. the pressures to be certain things at a certain age, the pressure to be married, have kids, and a career. We see what happens when women divert from these expectations and the consequences that they have to deal with.

Q: Do you think that shows on a streaming platform like Showmax can be more honest about these issues than mainstream TV?

A: I think Showmax is changing the game as a streaming platform. We are able to tackle more diverse and controversial topics on Showmax in comparison to traditional linear TV. In some of our previous projects on free-to-air TV, producers are pigeon-holed in terms of the content that we were allowed to produce, if you didn’t flour in the lines, your content would air very late at night, if at all.

Q: How do the three main characters represent the expectations that Kenyan women feel today?

A: The three main characters are so different and diverse, and I love this because it shows you that there is no one way to be a woman. Women are complex and different and they should be given the space to express themselves as they are.

Sintamei represents the career woman. She is really successful at her job, she’s in a position of power BUT she still has to balance her personal life, where she is perceived to be failing because she hasn’t had a child with her husband. Her in-laws are very cruel and demean her. We see such an interesting duality of her strong and assertive personality in her work life, but also how vulnerable she feels in her home life. Her work life is not a bed of roses either: Sintamei has to deal with the double standards and sexism that women in the workplace must deal with.

Rebecca’s character shows us what society thinks mothers should or shouldn’t be. With her, we understand that just because one is a mother that doesn’t mean she stops being a woman. Rebecca has to decide what she wants out of life, and that she doesn’t have to stop living because she’s a mother. Rebecca struggles to balance these roles internally. She has to figure out if she should stay in a relationship that’s not working, just for her children. She shows us the sacrifices and pressure of being a mother.

Mariah’s character lives by her own rule. She doesn’t conform to societal expectations and we see the consequences and the judgment that she has to deal with. Her relationships with men are transactional and she has no shame about it. She is loud about how she lives her life and not ashamed. She never waters herself down. She is confident in her sexuality and not afraid to use it to get what she needs. She is selfish about her desires and goes after what she wants. She represents the repressed parts that women are told to hide and not discuss.

Q: What were the stories behind Insignia Production’s previous popular shows Changing Times and New Beginnings?

A: Changing Times was a coming-of-age drama about a group of college friends, as they tackle becoming adults and forging identities and sense of self in Nairobi.

New Beginnings was our stab at the telenovela genre. It was a fun show, filled with colourful and exaggerated characters. It had murder, deception, affairs, family drama and lies. The cast was very diverse in age, background and it was so much putting this project together.

Q: What were your big TV influences growing up?

A: I grew up loving dramas! M-Net/Multichoice had so much content. Most of it was obviously from the US and UK: dramas and comedies such Sex and the City, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Dawson’s Creek, The OC, One Tree Hill, Daria. We didn’t have a lot of representation of African and Black stories, but I am proud to be in the industry now and create our own shows.

But I was a fan of South African shows such as Generations (I fell in love with Connie Ferguson here) and Egoli (never missed an episode).

Q: How easy is it to survive running a production company on existing programme budgets?

A: Honestly, it’s not easy. The Kenyan film industry has a long way to go. Kenya doesn’t get the types of budgets that Nigeria and South Africa are afforded, but this has not stopped us from producing stellar quality work. Our quality of work rivals international productions, but better budgets would help us greatly so that actors in Kenya could solely rely on acting as their only profession. I’d like to see us get there because there are so many talented actors in our industry that are passionate about their craft. Production companies have to be smart and business savvy in order to survive here. Our company Insignia has been operational for 13 years. It hasn’t been easy but we have rolled with the punches and perfected our services and I’m proud of what we have achieved and how we have made a name for ourselves.

Q: What have you got planned next after Unmarried comes out?

A: Insignia has so many projects lined up; my business partner Phillippe Bresson and I are excited about the next steps. There is a movie coming out next month on another major streaming network. Can’t say more, but stay tuned.

In Brief

Nigeria: The National Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB) has said that it censored over 2000 Nigerian films in 2021. Executive director of NFVCB, Adedayo Thomas, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Abuja that the figure was made possible mainly by the online submission of films adopted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Thomas stated that the Board could censor many films during the pandemic due to online submissions, noting that Nigeria did not produce most of the films.

South Africa: Walt Disney Co has confirmed that the company’s streaming service, Disney+, will launch in South Africa “during the South African winter”. According to the company, Disney+ will be available in 42 new countries and 11 new territories simultaneously. South Africa, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates will be among the new countries.

Uganda: The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is investigating 23 TV stations following allegations that they have been broadcasting copyrighted content without authorisation, violating the Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006. The Commission recently sent letters to the stations requesting that they immediately cease broadcasting any programmes or content they do not have the necessary approvals or copyrights. The Commission wrote to the stations in letters signed by Ag. Executive Director Ms Susan Wegoye “that Section 46 of the Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights Act of 2006 strictly prohibits broadcasters from exhibiting copyrighted content to the public for commercial purposes without a license, valid transfer,

Nigeria: Walt Disney Co has confirmed that the company’s streaming service, Disney+, will launch in South Africa “during the South African winter”. According to the company, Disney+ will be available in 42 new countries and 11 new territories simultaneously. South Africa, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates will be among the new countries.