“Talking about black ambition was important to me”

Creator Abby Ajayi is aware of the inevitable comparisons between her new Prime Video drama series Riches and HBO’s Succession.

“There are so many shows about families when I started making them, [but] I looked more at real life [families] — the Hiltons, the Kardashians, the Guccis,” she told the Post. “By the time we got the green light, ‘Succession’ was already on TV.”

“Riches,” which premieres December 2, is about five siblings fighting for control of their late Nigerian-British father’s empire in the black beauty industry. Self-made tycoon Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) left his first wife and two children when his eldest daughter was 7 years old.

Now ambitious businesswoman Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and gay stylist Simon (Emmanuel Imani) live in America, and they haven’t spoken to their estranged father in over 20 years. His second family is his scheming widow Claudia (Sarah Niles, “Ted Lasso”), fugitive influencer Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), party boy with inferiority complex Gus (Ola Orebiyi), and practical Wanda (Nneka Okoye).

“I think it’s always flattering to compare it to something that’s been hugely successful,” Ajayi said. “But I feel like the themes in ‘Succession’, ‘Yellowstone’, ‘Empire’ and [‘Riches’] are just eternal human themes going back to Shakespeare.”

The forgotten American family members: the siblings Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and Simon (Emmanuel Imani) are talking on a sidewalk.
The American siblings: Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and Simon (Emmanuel Imani).
David Hindley/Prime Video
The three British siblings: Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), Gus (Ola Orebiyi) and Wanda (Nneka Okoye).
The three British siblings: Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), Gus (Ola Orebiyi) and Wanda (Nneka Okoye).
Prime video

The two branches of Stephen’s family reunite at the reading of his will after his death, and it’s not all sunshine and roses – as everyone is stunned to hear he left his entire business to Nina and Simon.

“I love family drama stories and family business stories,” said Ajayi (“How to Get Away with Murder,” “Inventing Anna”), who will also be the showrunner of the upcoming series The Plot, starring Mahershala Ali.

“I grew up watching shows like ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Dallas,'” she said. “But even in real life, whether you’re watching the Guccis, the Kardashians or the Hiltons, I’ve always been fascinated by how the stakes are raised when blood and money are mixed. And the producers and I talked about areas where we could bring a black family business. Cosmetics and hair were the piece that really brought it together for me. Because I thought it was a way into a glamorous and visually enjoyable world that would still allow me to tell stories that had substance in the spirit of the times. And being able to talk about black ambition was important to me.

“Those were the different areas I thought about as I started developing the show.”

Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) in "Riches."
Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) in Wealth.
Prime video
Claudia (Sarah Niles) in "Riches."
Claudia (Sarah Niles) in Wealth.
Prime video

Much like her characters, Ajayi has lived in both England and America, and she wanted the show to reflect that, she said.

“It speaks to something that the show highlights, which is the black diaspora,” she said. “My parents came to England from Nigeria in the 1960s, but one of my mother’s sisters went to America. So there’s a branch of my family that has an American accent and was born in America, and I was born in London. For many black Africans, you have roots that take you from West Africa to Europe to America. I think that also sets it apart from other family shows out there. We haven’t seen that very often on TV, but it’s a very real experience.”

Stephen's widow Claudia (Sarah Niles) in "Riches."
Stephen’s widow Claudia (Sarah Niles) in Riches.
Prime video
    Abby Ajayi (far right).
Abby Ajayi (far right).
Amazon Studios

She said her previous experience working on Shonda Rhimes shows helped Riches.

“What I learned was the importance of telling dynamic stories that engage audiences. [Rhimes] was such a beacon,” she said. “The way she encourages female creatives to take up space in the space has been hugely inspirational for how I can create my own show.”

https://nypost.com/2022/12/01/riches-creator-talking-about-black-ambition-was-important-to-me/ “Talking about black ambition was important to me”

Emma Bowman

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