Bold Women. Scandalized Viewers. It’s ‘Sex and the City,’ Senegal Style.

Esther Ndiaye plays Racky in “Mistress of a Married Man,” a wildly popular show in Senegal.CreditCreditJane Hahn for The New York Times


DAKAR, Senegal — In the most controversial scene of “Mistress of a Married Man,” a hugely popular new television series in Senegal, the show’s protagonist, Marème, dons a daring magenta pantsuit and heads out for a date with a married man — but not before pointing below her belt.

“This is mine,” she tells her best friend. “I give it to whomever I please.”

The series, which debuted in January, has quickly reached a “Sex and the City” level of popularity, setting off a fierce debate over contemporary womanhood in a largely Muslim West African nation that like much of the region, is urbanizing at breakneck speed. The pilot alone has received more than three million views on YouTube, a number nearly equivalent to the entire population of Senegal’s capital region.

In a country where women’s sexuality has often been hidden behind a culture of discretion, Marème’s pronouncement, fans say, was nothing short of rebellion. And it fits into a larger movement by women to assert their independence. The show takes on not just feminine desire, but also rape, mental illness, male power, domestic violence and the jealousies that arise out of polygamy.

It is part of a burst of woman-driven television and film production across Africa in which writers, producers and actors openly assert female sexuality, challenge traditional gender roles and present distinctly African stories to African audiences.

There has been some pushback, from both official sources and everyday viewers. In Senegal, a state regulator has threatened a broadcast ban of “Mistress of a Married Man,” citing content likely to harm the “preservation of cultural identities.”

Netflix, which arrived on the continent in 2016, has two woman-driven series in the works in Africa, one about a female spy, the other about a girl uncovering her family’s secret past.


Fans watching the final episode of Season 1 in Dakar.CreditJane Hahn for The New York Times

Ghana’s growing Gollywood scene has several influential female producers.

And in Kenya, “Rafiki,” from the director Wanuri Kahiu, chronicles a romance between daughters of rival politicians in a country where being gay is illegal. Officials initially banned the film, but it screened to sold-out Nairobi audiences after a judge ordered a temporary reprieve.

“Mistress of a Married Man” airs twice a week on YouTube and on the channel 2STV. It is the brainchild of Kalista Sy, 34, a former television journalist who wrote the pilot after typing “How do you write a script?” into Google.



Julie Turkewitz


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