December 5, 2011
Drama with a purpose in Shuga. Credit: mtvshuga.com
Video: MTV's Shuga Episode 1, 2 and 3.
Love. Sex. Money. Friendships. Lies. Regrets. Drama. These are the ingredients of Shuga. And it's an addictive mix. MTV International and BET joined forces to host a live bi-coastal broadcast of the drama series Shuga on World AIDS Day. Students from Georgetown Day School in D.C. and select students in Nairobi, Kenya were invited to watch episodes two and three of the hard-hitting show and engage in a live video discussion about how the issues presented on the show hit home. The discussion was charismatically facilitated by BET Entertainer Big Tigger in D.C. and MTV Africa VJ Kule in Nairobi.
Shuga follows the lives of nine young people as they work and play. (Think Degrassi meets the Eastenders in Nairobi). The urban setting, blend of Swahili and English and cultural accents help draw the viewers into the show. The big underlying problem among all of the characters is safe sex practices and the consequences of making the wrong choice. HIV is a grave concern to all of the characters but some deal with it differently than others.
The Georgetown Day School students were intrigued by the performances, the setting, and the similarities between Nairobi culture and American culture. However, when it was all said and done they could only slightly relate to the issue of AIDS. David*, a sophomore at GDS, said that he liked the show but didn't really identify with the characters. "It's not my reality but it's interesting to watch. We [GDS students] don't really think about it." One female student said that in D.C., AIDS isn't exactly a big concern. "I feel like it's not really a problem here in America. We have AIDS walks to raise money but it's an international problem. I feel like it's not a big deal here." Of course she and David don't feel concerned about it. They aren't exactly a part of the "at-risk" group for HIV. In fact, according to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentage of White teens that have had sex with more than four people (i.e. engaging in risky behavior) is 10.5% compared to 28.6% of Black teens and 14.2% of Hispanic teens. The percentage of white teens that used condoms during their last sexual encounter was 63% with Black teens following closely at 62% (hooray Black teens). Not that Georgetown Day School students don't need to be aware of HIV/AIDS but just think of how a show like this could impact students at Ballou, Anacostia, HD Woodson and Spingarn High Schools. Those schools are located in areas of the city where HIV rates are the highest and is much more prevalent in a teen's life.
First of all, it's a great way to break down cultural barriers that dispel the "us" and "them" notion. In the end, all cultures struggle with relationships and health issues. Second, it appeals to young people with accents of hip-hop music, slang and images of thought bubbles in the form of text messages. Also, it is not homosexual based. Although homosexual young men and women need to hear and learn about HIV, it's just as important for heterosexual young men and women to know that this disease knows no sexual orientation. Finally, the exceptional acting convinces viewers that HIV is a very real threat to young lives. No one character is immune to HIV or the stigma that it creates.
Want a taste of Shuga? Click to see episodes 1, 2 and 3.