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Find Out Why One West African Country Adopted Mexican Telenovelas As One Of Their Own

Picture this: A muscular man and an attractive woman are in the middle of a passionate love scene in a horse stable on a pristine Mexican hacienda. They’re both kissing, sweating, and, as the scene progresses, wearing less and less clothing.

In a matter of moments, a jealous ex-lover rides up to the hacienda on a beautiful white horse, walks into the horse stable, and fires a gun, immediately killing one of the lovers.

Though this scene is completely fabricated, it’s a sequence of events that tends to be used repeatedly in Mexican telenovelas and could easily have been played by someone like Cuban-born actor, William Levy, or Mexican singer actress, Thalia.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Facebook

Telenovelas have grown to be a important part of Mexican culture since they first appeared as radio programs in the 1930s, which were later transformed into television series throughout the United States and Latin America. Each has its own story line but they tend to follow themes related to love, family, murder, and crime.

But the popularity of Mexican telenovelas, which some estimates show, attract more than 40 million viewers on any given night, have also spread to countries outside of Mexico and Latin America.

The West African country of Ghana is home to over 27 million residents and is considered to hold one of the largest Mexican telenovela viewerships outside of Latin America. Mexican telenovelas like “Esmeralda,” “Rosalinda,” and “La Ursupadora” have become so popular in Ghana that they have been consistently translated and dubbed, forcing television companies to create shows dedicated to offering commentary and analysis on Mexican telenovelas.

The world is becoming increasingly smaller and interconnected, today, through digital platforms like Facebook and other forms of social media, but Mexican telenovelas in were introduced to Ghana long before the internet frenzy.

Ghanaian cultural critic, Ameyaw Debrah, remembers the moment Mexican telenovela “Acapulco Bay” was first introduced to Ghana in 1997 by TV3, a Ghanaian television company.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Getty Images

“TV3 first introduced ‘Acapulco Bay’ and it became a smash hit because aside from the love story there was a lot of suspense and crime,” explained Debrah, who has amassed an enormous social media following for his analysis on Ghanaian pop culture. “This made it interesting for both male and female audiences, and then, seeing the success of telenovelas, also introduced ‘Cuando Seas Mias.'”

Like “Acapulco Bay,” “Cuando Seas Mias” featured two prominent Mexican actors, Silvia Navarro and Sergio Basañez, who played the leading protagonists.

In a country where women have had a large role in the country’s informal and formal market growth in the past ten years, they often, according to Debrah, often leave work early or close their businesses to rush home and watch the shows.

“Telenovelas have been disruptive to the normal TV viewing culture of Ghanaians,” described Debrah. “It has been known to affect productivity, especially with working females and even housewives. So market women close early to catch their favorite show.”

Ghanaian women also viewed telenovelas as a way to learn about concepts of love and romance.

“In a country where women have had a large role in the country’s informal and formal market growth in the past ten years, they often, according to Debra, leave work early or close their businesses to rush home and watch the shows.”

 

“My entire life revolved around telenovelas,” explains Delali Quarshie. “They were such beautiful stories and were my first introduction to what ‘true love’ seems to be about. As a girl growing up in my society, I was swept away by prince charming and fighting against the love triangle.”

“Even if it doesn’t end with love, there’s always that note of a positive light ahead for them, and that’s something that I think makes a telenovela the beautiful genre that it is.”

It’s not the first time, however, that Mexican telenovelas have become extremely popular in a country outside of Latin America.

Both China and Russia had their own telenovela craze in the early 1990s and have since created their own adaptations based on their cultural customs and language.

Ghanaian television companies have yet to follow China and Russia’s model. But a new generation of filmmakers and creatives throughout the country are realizing that creating authentic Ghanaian-based films requires depicting the impact that Mexican telenovelas have had on one of Africa’s most diverse nations.

Popular musician and filmmaker, Blitz the Ambassador, born Samuel Bazawule, whose upcoming film, “The Burial of Kojo,” depicts the life experiences of two Ghanaian brothers, understands the impact of cross-cultural storytelling in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

“The film is about two brothers who deal with tragic consequences,” the filmmaker described over the phone from his home in Accra, Ghana. “The brothers are miners and engaged in illegal mining with gold and diamonds, which is a trend that continues to grow with Chinese investors.”

The prominent musician and emerging filmmaker is part of a growing group of Ghanaian creatives who grew up with telenovelas as part of their cultural experience.

“Telenovela culture is huge here and we’re very attracted to the melodrama and its very African when it comes to the very dramatic nature of things, it’s pretty much up our alley,” he described.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

Because Bazawule wanted to portray an authentic Ghanaian experience, he and Mexican-American cinematographer, Michael Fernandez, felt like it was important to create a storyline for their film where they could reflect the influence of Mexican telenovelas in Ghana. 

But affording the licensing fees required to purchase the rights for an established telenovela was outside of their budget, forcing them to find creative alternatives like to creating and shooting their own telenovela, which they titled “Puebla Mi Amor.”

“When I was making this film we couldn’t afford the telenovela license,” he explained. “We had to find a way and we had to be clever. So in the telenovela that we create for the film, there’s similar circumstances and there’s a parallel to what’s happening in the film.”

Filming the “Puebla Mi Amor” was initially supposed to take place in Miami, but Bazawule — who self-funded most of the film — was forced to shoot in Ghana.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

“We were planning to shoot in Miami but we didn’t have enough money, so we had to recreate scenes that looked like Miami using Puerto Rican and Spanish actors.”

Finding ways to work around budget concerns was a common occurrence during the film’s production, but including a telenovela scene in the film’s production was a way to show Ghanaians, like anyone else, live in an interconnected world.

“Nobody is on an island and as much as we may not recognize, our ideas about love, relationships, and family are often borrowed and it’s huge.”

Still, he hopes that one day Ghanaian culture and media can have the same impact that Mexican telenovelas have had in his own country.

“Nobody is on an island and as much as we may not recognize, our ideas about love, relationships, and family are often borrowed and it’s huge.”

 

“What’s not happening is the reverse, as much as we know about the world, you rarely go to Latin America and people know about Fela Kuti and other African musicians.”

“The influence has not been an exchange.”

As the Ghanaian filmmaking community continues to grow and consistent collaborations between Bazawule and Fernandez continue, perhaps Bazawule’s wishes might come true.

 

CREDIT: Credit: Blitz The Ambassador

 

“Michael is Latino and understands the importance of black and brown media images. The work that we continue do has to be global and has to leave a footprint.”

At that rate, what’s to say that Latinos in the U.S. and Latin America won’t be glued to their television screens while watching Ghanaian telenovelas in twenty years?

 

READ: 11 Crucial Life Lessons I Learned, Not From My Parents, But From Telenovelas

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