The MTV Drama Raising HIV Awareness in Africa
October 29, 2010
Debuting last year, an MTV soap opera set and filmed in Nairobi, Kenya, follows a group of students in the era of AIDS. The bold, cutting-edge style of "Shuga" distinguishes it from many other television shows in Africa, and its non-preachy reflections of modern life have won it a young following across the continent.
"It's the story of morning afters and sweet departures ... and the stains we leave on each other," begins the drama's trailer.
"'Shuga' did not exaggerate anything, it relived what Kenya is," said Sharon Olago, who plays the promiscuous party girl Violet, whose sexual exploits strain her friendships. "That is why it got the fame it did. That is why people jumped into it, because people saw themselves in it."
"Shuga" came about when UNICEF joined with MTV to create a campaign to draw youths to health and social issues. Part of MTV's "Staying Alive" campaign, the drama's drive is an emphasis on protected sex and HIV testing. Of young Kenyans polled by Johns Hopkins University, 60 percent said they had seen the show. Of these viewers, 90 percent said the show would change their behavior.
Nicholas Mutama, who plays a wealthy, swaggering student, said he "freaked out" initially when he read the script. "The more I read it, the more I saw me in some of those characters," he said.
"The way 'Shuga' is scripted and the way it is shot, everyone can enjoy it -- it is entertaining, but it educates you at the same time," said Olago. "That is what you want. You want to learn something, especially on issues of HIV/AIDS, which is very personal to all of us."
10.16.2010; Tom Hayes
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