Over a month since the trailer for African Booty Scratcher lit up our screens, it is still racking up praise. With over 200,000 views on YouTube and a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign to shoot a pilot episode, the three-minute trailer has managed to titillate African’s in the diaspora and beyond. The sitcom, which focuses on the struggle of a Nigerian immigrant family to balance wanting a better life for their son with wanting him to maintain their traditional values and cultural identity, has been lauded for its accuracy in describing what it is like to grow up as an African child in the United States. Damilare Sonoiki, the show’s creator has managed to aptly capture African parents’ tendencies; from unyielding expectations of excellence from their offsprings to an affinity for jollof rice and goat meat dishes. The Jeli talked to Sonoiki who also works as a writer for the ABC show, Black-ish, about why he chose to name the show African Booty Scratcher and what he wants people to leave with after watching the show.
THE JELI: The show is basically about an immigrant Nigerian family wanting a better life for their son, but wanting him to maintain his cultural identity – that’s real, and you convey that in a way that’s incredibly light-hearted and resonates with a lot of people. Is the Nigerian story just funny? I mean, does the story of Nigerian immigrant experiences just lend itself to humor naturally? And how do you humanize and make digestible those moments that don’t?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I wrote humor in college, and I write for Black-ish, so writing humor came naturally to me. To me, I think the most important thing is learning how to balance the heavy stuff with the more lighthearted stuff. At the end of the day, it’s comedy, so you always want to undercut the heavy and more emotional narratives with humor.
THE JELI: Writing this story about a Nigerian immigrant family, do you feel like you have a certain responsibility to either demystify the Nigerian immigrant experience or expose people to new ideas about Nigerian culture, values and family lives?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think that’s part of the goal. A lot of what I learned about TV and content, in general, is from Black-ish and on that show, we’re demystifying what it means to black or what it means to be black and successful. I think the most important thing is telling stories that are authentic to that experience, and if in the process you demystify things then that’s great. Demystifying shouldn’t be a goal, but more like the outcome of what you’re already doing.
THE JELI: As a writer, what do you think makes a good story?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think for humor it has to be funny, but you also have to feel something at the end. I think the best stories always have some heart; I think that’s what sets good stories apart. For example, Superbad was an incredibly successful comedy, and it was funny, but it kind of did more because you cared about the relationship between the two characters, in the end, you know? The film is about a party, but it’s also about a bromance, and that was the time when the word bromance was relatively new to the lexicon. But it’s really more about this relationship between these two friends who have been best friends forever and are now going their separate ways. So a good story really is a story that makes you feel something, and you can see the characters grow and learn.
THE JELI: What inspired the creation of African Booty Scratcher?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I had an idea for a show, just to write for my own writing samples and I had time. We wrapped on Blackish in March and it was kind of the first time that I had so much free time, and I needed something to do to keep me occupied.
THE JELI: How long did it take to flesh out concepts and characters for the show?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think that with semi-autobiographical writing it’s fairly easy because you know the characters; you’re not making it up. Obviously, it’s exaggerated, but the characters are taken from real life, and so all that stuff is pretty simple, and shooting it was pretty simple because it’s not that long.
THE JELI: How much of the show is culled from your life experience, if at all? Did your dad actually say Harvard or nothing?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: A lot of it, actually. I mean certain phrases. My dad actually did say Harvard or nothing when I was in middle school.
THE JELI: What do you want people to see, to take away, to leave with after watching African Booty Scratcher
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I want them to think it’s funny; I think that I just want them to find humor in this story.
THE JELI: In an interview with OkayAfrica, you talked about how you were going to name the show Africa Time, but you stuck with African Booty Scratcher, why and what are your thoughts about somehow reclaiming this name that wasn’t only an insult but pretty much summed up what people thought about Africans and African?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think there is something to reclaiming the name and making something negative positive, but I don’t think for the long term that’ll be the title, but you never know. I’m not sure yet.
THE JELI: I think another interesting thing for me is that in your interview with OkayAfrica, you talked about Dulo playing the dad in ABS. There are comedians like himself and Chief Obi, SamTakesOff, and the rest who have gained online acclaim for imitating Nigerian dads on YouTube, Instagram, and Vine, these videos are largely popular, almost always accurate and very funny – do you think that the climate of social media, Africans seeing themselves online and making fun of themselves plays into how successful the trailer for African Booty Scratcher is?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think that the success of all of those things proved that there is a market for these stories, that these are stories people want to see. The fact that Dulo has like 300,000 followers and stuff, all of that proved that there is something there and that this is something people relate to and want to see.
THE JELI: As a writer, who are some other writers that you’re inspired by?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: Kenya Barris, he created Black-ish, and he’s been sort of a mentor to me, he’s great. Lena Dunham from Girls, as well. I also like the writers behind Arrested Development; it’s a great show. Oh, and Simon Rich, he’s a great writer.
THE JELI: In her TED Talk, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of a single story and how stereotypes aren’t untrue but merely incomplete. Is this something you’re thinking about when writing for these characters?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think that with any character that feels like a stereotype, there are also real people who are like that. But I believe the aim is to try and show a diversity of characters; if the show goes to a Netflix or an ABC or a place that has that kind of budget, the plan is to have a cast and build out more characters to show variety.
THE JELI: So I watched the episode that you wrote for season 2 of Black-ish – Super Rich Kids, and I saw a lot of similarity between that and the central theme of African Booty Scratcher. The Black-ish episode was about Dre feeling like he was losing his son to rich, white people, and like you said in African Booty Scratcher’s “mission statement” African Booty Scratcher is about wanting a better life for your kid but wanting him to maintain his cultural identity. Do you think there is a similarity in the general idea for both shows?
DAMILARE SONOIKI: I think the central theme for Black-ish is similar to the central theme for African Booty Scratcher. For Black-ish, it’s about parents being taught to give their kids more than what they had and by doing that, what do their kids lose? That’s the same thing you would see in an immigrant household. You come to a different country to give your kids more, but they start getting influenced in certain ways that you might not agree with, and you start to weigh the costs and benefits of giving them more and more, in this case, is taking them from a country like Nigeria to a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world.
We look forward to hearing more from Damilare and hopefully a full season of ABS will be coming to a screen near you very soon! Follow Damilare on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest developments.