Samantha Chioma is a British born Nigerian writer who has recently debuted her first web series “Life of Hers” directed by Olan Collardy and Ola Masha of Cardy Films UK. Life of Hers explores the challenges of being a young woman of the African Diaspora in a world where ambition and drive are in conflict with the traditional values of an African upbringing.
I caught up with Samantha to discuss the series, the inspiration behind the characters and how the series can help young people to understand their position in a cosmopolitan city…
Can you give us an overview of the 1st season without giving too much away?
Season one comprises five episodes, and over these five episodes the viewers are introduced to the four main characters, Kaima, Cassandra, Hodan and Valentine. The season gives some insight into their individual personalities, backgrounds and personal conflicts, and how some of these conflicts are resolved (or not!).
What was the inspiration behind each of the four main characters?
I wanted to develop four women who had different backgrounds, different personalities, different outlooks in love and life and different circumstances, but were united in friendship. I also wanted to address different aspects of modern life with these women, so for example, with Valentine, we see how religion can play a part in a young woman’s life, and with Kaima we see the difficulties that can arise when you choose a career path that’s more entrepreneurial and creative, instead of the usual 9-5.
How did the actresses who play each character win you over at casting?
I wasn’t actually involved with casting – the producer and directors took care of that. I did, however, have a discussion with the director beforehand about how I imagined each character looked and their idiosyncrasies. When I finally met the cast it was a real pleasure and I was excited to see what each would do with their characters, and how they would bring them to life.
Are any of the characters based on yourself and your experiences?
I think they all have an element of me or of things I’ve thought or discussed with friends. I’m very interested in people and what motivates them and excites them, what makes them feel embarrassed or sad or happy or ashamed.
Who is your favourite character and why?
Interesting question… I like all of them, but my favourite characters are Hodan and Onama (Kaima’s little sister). Hodan, because I think she’s the most complex and unusual of the women, and Onama because she’s young, brilliant and wise, but also a little naive.
Who is the target audience for the series?
The target audience are young women and men, both from the UK and around the world. For those in the UK, I hope it will be an accurate representation of some aspects of life as a young black woman in London, and for those around the world I think the themes and characters will still be relatable as a young adult in an ever-changing society.
Do you feel that only having women with an African background limits or even ostracises the series when it comes to women of other cultures e.g. Caribbean’s?
No, I don’t think so. Whilst British Africans and Caribbean’s have many similarities of experience, there are also many significant differences. Coming from an African background myself, I felt that the black British African experience was not one that receives much attention or exploration on TV, beyond the typical caricatures or stereotypes. I don’t think that having main characters who have an African background isolates viewers who don’t. We are unified by many other things, for example, our blackness, gender, goals, desires, beliefs, and the fact that we are young Londoners.
How do you feel the series will affect your target audience?
I’m hoping the audience feel familiar with Life of Hers, like I’m an old friend who has just told parts of their own story!
What was your main goal when you begun writing the series?
I wanted to write the type of show that I wanted to watch myself. I wanted to write a series that was about young British black women, that reflected some of the issues that we face today, and was also about friendship. The main goal was to write something that was relatable and could document and explore different aspects of life as a black British woman in the 2000s.
Do you think there is too for much pressure put on young women when it comes to choosing between family, career, tradition etc?
Tough question! I think this requires a conversation but I would say, sometimes, yes. I’ve been fortunate in that my mother never put pressure on me to do one or the other – she herself has been someone who has done practically everything simultaneously; education, career, family, business, etc. That said, however, for me and I’m sure many others, it was always implied that education (as in, up to degree level) was to be completed before anything else! I am sure that there were things she would have had to sacrifice for family, or sacrifice for her career. One issue is that young women are given such varying advice and this can be a pressure in itself. We are told by society and sometimes family members, to get our Masters degree, get a good job, be ambitious, but not too ambitious. Look good, but don’t wear too many designers or don’t buy that car or that house in case it scares off a possible suitor. So it can be difficult to find balance and the courage to do what you really want or need to do for yourself.
As a young woman who is building her career what steps have you taken to ensure that you do not have to sacrifice any of your dreams?
That’s another tough question! I’m a big believer in writing all my dreams down, so I have an A2 poster on the wall at home that has all the different things that I want to do and become. This serves as a reminder whenever I start to get distracted from my main goals.
I also try to ask for help or advice when I need it. This hasn’t been easy, and it’s not something that comes naturally but I do believe that many, if not all, things can only be accomplished with the help of others. It’s my way of being kinder to myself, and not working myself to the bone when there are people around who have the capacity, skills and desire to help.
I guess, another step I’ve taken is learning how to be audacious with my dreams and desires, and this requires lots of courage. It’s something that my friends and I discuss with and encourage in each other frequently, taking bold, innovative steps towards our dreams and careers, regardless of our fears, or the real (or perceived) lack of resource.
How did Ola Masha, Olan Collardy (director) and producer Waiki Harnais get involved in the project?
I had the idea for the series a while ago, and sent some ideas to Waiki and Ola for their opinion, as they have a lot of experience in film and script-writing. They then forwarded my ideas to Olan, who was really enthusiastic for the project, so after my exams (I’m studying full-time), I sat down and wrote the script for the five episodes over three weeks or so. Olan, Ola and Waiki took care of getting the cast and the rest of the production team together, and then finally all the filming and editing.
Social media has been used as the main advertising tool for the series, what kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
It’s been amazing, even before people had seen it, everyone was really very supportive and excited to watch it and were already claiming who they thought their favourite characters would be. Most of the people who have now watched the series remark how much they can relate to the characters and how well the series was produced, some going as far as saying it’s something that has been needed in the UK web-drama scene. It’s been overwhelmingly positive and I’m very grateful.
How did you get into writing is it something you have always wanted to do?
I’ve been writing fiction since I could read! I remember in primary school a teacher suggested an anthology be made of the stories I had written. I still have a few of those stories and they were imaginative but really quite cringeworthy. I love people, and I love exploring what motivates them, analysing them, empathising with them, understanding them and then explaining them to others. This passion is shown in my love for writing, and also in my chosen career path.
Have you done any other kind of writing and if so how different is it writing a series?
Over the years I have mainly written short stories and poems, though I wouldn’t call myself a poet at all! I wrote a play a couple of years ago. I also had a blog, The SuperWoman Chronicles, where I wrote articles about my life and my thoughts on culture, tradition, religion and womanhood.
Writing the webseries was an interesting experience and I had to learn a lot quite quickly, about structure and dialogue and writing succinctly; you don’t get the luxury of story writing where you can sit and spend paragraphs describing someone’s hair or clothes for example. Despite that, when it comes to storylines, webseries provide a flexibility that allows you to explore multiple themes without getting the viewer – or yourself – confused.
How did it feel to see your ideas come to life on screen?
It was really surreal. I had sat with these characters for months, reading their words and actions over and over again, editing and re-editing. So to see it come to life and see the characters take form is really an amazing experience.
What advice would you give a would be writer?
Just write. Write the story that’s important to you. Also, to paraphrase some advice that author Justine Larbalestier shared a while ago: consider your first draft a ‘zero draft’. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or not getting everything right in the first draft. Write it all anyway and then rework it later.
How long was the process between writing the series and getting it produced?
The whole process has taken about six months! It was long and tiring but exciting. We learnt so much in the process and hopefully that will show in season two!
What are your plans for the next year?
Having released season one on Friday 11th July, we’re moving into pre-production for season two now. So look out for that!
Where can audiences find the series?
Well the series is out! All five episodes of Season One are available to watch online now on the Cardy Films TV YouTube channel www.YouTube.com/cardyfilmstv