Friday, December 11, 2009

Shuga - Justified Hype or Not?

Well, if you visit the Kenyan blogs or any Kenyan social networking site, no doubt you've heard the hype that's MTV Ignite's "Shuga"...a public service announcement about HIV transmission that stresses the importance of knowing one's status in a creative, subtle way that's not preachy, condemning, etc. I can see why mini-series? (still not sure what it is)...has garnered such attention in Kenya. Before I continue, here's some housekeeping disclaimers and a link to Jmmk's post with links to the "Shuga" episodes.

For starters, I'm a certified HIV test counselor, so I've seen it all and heard it all. The lens through which I view HIV is from a public health perspective, and I always try not to let my personal bias enter the picture (in true Kenyan cultural upbringing, I am socially conservative).

Ok, now on to this movie/mini-series. The one word I would use to describe it is "SURPRISING". This spoken by someone whose vivid memories of the social scene in Kenya include women being stripped on the streets of Nairobi for wearing short skirts; and who can forget the warning "This program is unsuitable for children under 18" every time The Bold and The Beautiful came on! So of course for me, seeing a chick in a short dress boarding a matatu, and close ups of people kissing, and even Ayira's underwear clad body was surprising to me. Evidently, a lot has changed about what's socially acceptable in Kenya. Which leaves me wondering if this was airing during prime time and if the kiddos watched it with their parents (kissing scenes were usually the cue to change the channel).

My constant question as I watched Shuga was "how realistic is this movie?" On one score, I think it's very realistic, but on another score, I think not.

Realistic: If you're familiar with any Kenyan party scene, then you've probably witnessed all the characters portrayed in the movie. The all-night raving, the over indulgence of alcohol, the showing off of cars, the virgin that's always being pressured but wants to do the "right" thing, etc. Whether in Kenya or abroad, I think Shuga did a good job in portraying how Kenyans party in general. Even the portrayal of the sleeping around for monetary reasons is realistic, we all know such characters.

Unrealistic: There's the finer details of testing itself, i.e. if you have unprotected sex with an HIV+ person, it takes 3-6 months to get an accurate result. So, even if Violet tested negative and Skola positive, it was too soon for her to be celebrating her negative status. I am yet to meet a single Kenyan that has not been touched by HIV, be it a family member or friend. How many of those HIV+ people close to you freely talked about their status? How did society treat them and talk about them? How did you personally feel? The theme of "acceptance" that's portrayed in Shuga is rather unrealistic. Put yourself in Ty's shoes: you've been steadily dating someone and are even ready to get married. Then you discover they've been cheating on you with an HIV+ person and put you at great risk. My guess is that it will take a long time for you to get over the initial anger. And for many people, cheating is a huge deal breaker, HIV+ or not.
Perhaps acceptance was supposed to tie in with the message of people getting tested and knowing their status: a goal to strive for. As young people, we tend to think we're invisible and certain things only happen to some people and not "me".

Judging by some of the posts already up, and the comments left, both here at KBW and social networking sites like Facebook, it's pretty obvious that Shuga has its supporters and its opposers. And that's a good thing as it brings about public dialogue and debate. And if the film will lead some people to do some soul-searching and get tested, Shuga will have accomplished one of its objectives.

The bottom line is, ABSTINENCE ONLY SEX EDUCATION DOES NOT WORK!! It was kind of amusing to see/hear how shocked the "grown-ups" were when that survey came out showing that Kenyan youth are having plenty of sex. Of course they are! And they always have, so stop with the over the top reactions. Face reality. Teens are having sex, and they will continue to have it no matter how many times we preach abstinence. The best thing to do for our youth is educate them on how to protect themselves against HIV and other STDs, and teach them to take responsibility for their actions. For those that decide the best way to do that is by abstaining...good for them! Unfortunately, a majority won't. It's time we stopped burying our heads in the sand and pretending that every unmarried person is a virgin, or more accurately, should be a virgin. And even those that are married are known to stray. Otherwise, HIV rates among married couples wouldn't be so high.

I say, kuddos Shuga, for starting yet another HIV dialogue, and putting it in a context that the average campus student in Kenya can relate to. For those that think it's too "westernized", that's part of what's going on with our young Kenyans. They're busy becoming "westernized".


boyfulani said...

As a a 'Kenyan Movie', i think this is a step forward for the infant industry.
I would also hail it for the message but one wonders how effective it can really be in changing young people's lives.

SisBigBones said...

Yes, the sound, video quality and soundtrack were a step up compared to others we've seen, but then again, it is MTV. We wouldn't expect any less.
As for changing lives, I doubt it. But, as an awareness tool, people are talking about it and the message in it, so I guess it's a first step

jmmk said...

i totally agree with some parts of it being aspirational more than realistic. when ty went to meet ayira at the end all i could think was "eish, you can't really be that spineless." if the rumours are true and its made into a series im hoping that her cheating becomes a source of conflict. well, that and the discrepancies that you spoke of are ironed out. im sure there are many willing HIV counsellors out there who they can use to get that right.

as for the short skirts and everything i didn't feel informed enough to have an opinion since i grew up on the outskirts of nairobi and wearing anything like that and boarding a matatu would yield ... interesting scenarios. i once entered a jav to go to tao and someones grandmother went "shindwe!" as a reflex action to my locs.

as for the abstinance and sex issue im going to have to blog about that, too many thoughts and i dont want to ramble all over your comment box. :-D

as for it changing lives ... i dont know. i once saw a study that said soap operas shown in developing countries did tend to influence peoples lifestyles, especially women as they felt empowered by the characters they saw on tv. once i find a link ill drop it over here.

SisBigBones said...

JM, if they make it into a series, that would be great. I hope someone will post the episodes online :) And yes, if they're going to make it educational, they need to do their research well and let the information they disseminate be factual.

Nairobi in the 90's was not quite so liberal. By the time I was moving from Kenya, spaghetti straps and "pedal pushers" were all the rage, and even then, you wouldn't be caught dead in broad daylight strolling down the street with a spaghetti strap and nothing on top to hide your arms. The club scene was a different scenario altogether. My surprise is in the fact that people can wear what clearly looks like a clubbing outfit and walk around like that during the day (I witnessed this when I went home in the summer).

Speaking of locs, when did it become ok for "normal" men to wear locs and not raise eyebrows? I remember things like locs and earring studs on a guy being very taboo. And I think herein lies the issue. The young Kenyan generation is rapidly undergoing a revolution and the generations before them are having trouble keeping up.From my own personal observation, I feel like Kenya is at the stage where the US was in the 70's as far as the social and sexual revolution goes. Someday, they'll calm down :)

As for the abstinence issue, I would love to read someone else's thoughts on that. I have plenty of opinions when it comes to sex!

As for changing lives, I don't know about that either. But anything that gets people talking about an issue can't be a bad idea. Have a great weekend :)

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've heard of shuga, but it seems like its opening up a much needed dialogue.
re. abstinence: Unfortunately, it's true that abstinence only education is not going to cut it in our society. I say unfortunately because I believe abstinence to be the best prevention and thus the best cure.

jmmk said...

you are right, the generation of young kenyans nowadays are quickly evolving - i just wish that so many would stop ignoring it and get with the programme. societies change and instead of wishing that things would remain the same we can change (for the better) with it.

good to know that we are many who have many opinions on sex. my extended comment on how abstinence only education sucks is up at my place and probably ran long cos i recently had a conversation with a someone who told me it was immoral to have comprehansive sex education *rolling eyes* whats sad is, alot of folks think that way which frustrates me. like surely, inforing people cant be a bad thing, let them decide for themselves.

kellie said...

It's the first Kenyan program (other than the oldies: Vitimbi etc) that I've watched and actually enjoyed.

Like you say it's very real. I can almost spot a person I know in all those characters, and Ayira is the typical ambitious young girl especially in media (I know people who have given up true love to get ahead).

I however feel they tried to fit in alot of action in 3 episodes.

If there's more, I'll be watching.

SisBigBones said...

@KNYgal, yes, it's definitely opening up some dialogue. If you do get a chance, watch it and feel free to join the dialogue :) the sex education immoral, or is the act itself immoral? I never understand such logic. I commented on your post, and explained how the education actually kept me a virgin for a long time :D

@Kel...they did pack a lot into those 3 episodes. There's rumors it'll become a series. That'll be a good thing cuz they need to develop the characters further

Spidey/Tato said...

i say kudos to shuga its some sugar to the tato. it hits home hard.

oh yeah please run and get dexter!

Lindsay said...

Hey..nice post.
Didn't Violet say that she was in her window period and that she wouldn't know for sure till after 6 weeks or something? Jus curious.

Nice tho.

QuteKao said...

hey..this is off topic..i just read ur pretty interesting and goin to med skool in 2010...any tips u can offer me??

SisBigBones said...

Lindsay, I heard the buzz words "window period" at the beginning of the testing session with the boys, but I'll watch Violet's session again to see if it came up. me: Congrats on matriculating!!

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