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Stories of African Women: From CBS to PBS
August 3, 2020  | By Mike Hughes
 


Stories of African immigrants are getting a rare spurt of TV attention.

You can find them Monday in a witty comedy – Bob (Hearts) Abishola, 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS – and a serious documentary, Chez Jolie Coiffure as part of POV, 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

And yes, that's a huge range – from comedy to a PBS documentary describing the six-year ordeal of a woman identified as Sabine (top), who went from country to country.

"You walk in water, you walk in the desert," she says (via English subtitles). "You walk until you can't take it anymore, and you fall to the ground."

At first, she seems to be describing someone else. But this is her story, which she tells from a distance,

Desperate to leave Cameroon, Sabine took a job in Lebanon. Her employer took away her passport at the airport, she says, putting her into virtual slavery. Two years later, when she fled, it was often on foot, through Syria, Turkey, and Greece, and on to Belgium.

In Brussels, she found the district called Matonge. "In every country," she says, "there's a spot where Africans gather."

That's where she has her tiny shop, Chez Jolie Coiffure. Mostly, she does extensions and eyelashes and serves as an information hotline for people needing help; if immigration police arrive, word spreads quickly.

Chez Jolie Coiffure is a tough film to watch, partly because of the ragged sound and pictures, shot in a tight space by a one-woman crew. Still, it gives us the downside of the African immigration struggle.

And the upside? Fictionally, there's Bob (Hearts) Abishola, which producer Chuck Lorre told the Television Critics Association last year is about "the greatness of first-generation immigrants, about the focus and discipline, the hard work."

He wasn't sure where the immigrants would be from; then he met Gina Yashere, a British comedian whose parents are Nigerian immigrants. She became the show's co-creator, with a supporting role as Kemi, a friend of Abishola, the hard-working nurse being courted by a sock manufacturer.

Actually, that's roughly the only friend. Abishola – who lives with her auntie, uncle, and son – is mostly about work. As the title of the second episode explained: Nigerians Don't Do Useless Things.

 
 
 
 
 
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