For years, Shirley Frimpong-Manso has captivated viewers in Ghana by telling a different kind of story, one that puts her female characters at the front and centre.
With her films and TV shows, she has challenged stereotypes of how women are portrayed in Ghanaâ€™s cinema with complex and progressive female leads like Naana Akua Quansah, a single mother running to become Ghanaâ€™s first female president in the ground-breaking drama Shampaign or Aseye (Jackie Appiah), Dede (Lydia Forson) and Akasi (Naa Ashorkor) â€“ the three women making bold attempts to change their lives in the acclaimed romantic-comedy The Perfect Picture and itâ€™s 2019 sequel, The Perfect Picture: Ten Years Later.
Recently, the award-winning filmmaker has taken on a different kind of challenge by directing and producing her first-ever telenovela, Dede, the Akwaaba Magic series that is also streaming on Showmax.
â€œIâ€™ve never been a fan of the telenovela style of storytelling. It always felt farfetched. I like to write about thought-provoking stuff, so I was worried Iâ€™d lose the simplicity and the sense of humour Dede came with. But I fell in love with the fact that it was a Cinderella story, that was my favourite childhood story. Plus it was a female-led role, which was the icing on the cake for me. I immersed myself into Dedeâ€™s world and Iâ€™m loving every moment of it. Dede is my go-to production to unwindâ€, Shirley admits.
Interacting with Jennifer Ochieng in an exclusive interview, Shirley Frimpong-Manso expressed immense joy over the consumption of her new series.
In her words, it is â€œamazing. I had hoped the show would be a home run, but it has certainly exceeded my expectations with the overwhelming support and popularity it has gained.â€
Dede is adapted from the original story written by Bollywoodâ€™s Vivek Bahl but Shirley revealed how she was able to craftily keep the story authentic to the Ghanaian viewers.
â€œIt was always important to make Dede our own, although it was an adaptation. So immediately we embraced the Ga language, which until Dede was not the most popular Ghanaian local language used on our screens. Itâ€™s been predominantly Akan. Somehow the Ga felt authentic and brought a fresh angle to it all, plus we introduced humour that Ghanaians could appreciate along with the names of the characters, music, locations and even the story itself. If it doesnâ€™t feel Ghanaian, we certainly tweak it to suit our purpose,â€ she explained.
However, the mesmerizing award-winning filmmaker acknowledged that executing such a task did not come easy especially in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. She had to face working with a large crew and cast while holding their health a priority.
â€œDedeâ€™s first challenge for me was how to maintain a secure healthy environment filming with a large cast and crew. I decided immediately that camping the crew especially will ensure we were safer around each other, so after the initial Covid protocols, we all got into camp and maintained a very hygienic relationship with each other. The cast have kept a strict indoors attitude too, mainly staying at home when they are not on set. We have been safe and very lucky, filming several months with no one getting sick.â€
The lead role of the talked about telenovela â€œDedeâ€ was played by Adomaa Adjeman. Sharing the details of how this vibrant actress secured that role, Shirley stated that she sighted Adomaa perform in a Ghanaian movie, and immediately, knew she was the lady who could embody Dede to perfection.
â€œThere was a certain authenticity about her that was very rare, and I fell in love with her and was waiting for the right role to come along for me to engage her. Then Dede came along. I needed to cast someone who could embody all the million and one emotions Dede harbours. And Adomaa just felt like the right person for it. I called her and told her I believed in her ability to embrace this role. She auditioned and everybody else saw what I knew already. Adomaa is a joy to direct. I look forward to directing her every day,â€ she added.
For her, working with Adomaa Adjeman has been nothing but joy and believes up and coming actors should learn to be like Adomaa, who is so committed to her work and shows professionalism in becoming her role on set.
Talking about people who also featured in this telenovela, Shirley revealed that actress and media personality, Joselyn Dumas also plays the part of Felicity.
On why she has consistently engaged Joselyn Dumah, Shirley stated that â€œJoselyn has grown to become a very versatile actor; I like that about her very much. I knew she could play Felicity; I know there are others who had doubts. Her willingness to push herself for every role is what continuously brings us to the table. As a director, I also need to be inspired by my actorsâ€™ performances and Joselyn gives me that.â€
Dede is the tenth production Shirley and Joselyn have worked on together. In all her works with Joselyn, Felicity, she said is her favourite role played by the media personality, adding that â€œitâ€™s a complete deviation from everything else sheâ€™s done. I liked her very much also as Jennifer Adams in Adams Apples.â€
With Dede reaching a new milestone, with its 100th episode airing on Friday, July 23, Shirley said she was impressed by the turnout of events.
â€œOh boy, out of 100 episodes Iâ€™ll have more than a few favourite scenes and episodes. I love directing many of the scenes on Dede especially if it involves Dede and her father Nii Ocansey (Adjetey Anang), Felicity (Dumas) and Nii Aryee (George Quaye), and Michael (Dean Amegashie). For a long time too, I Iooked forward to the antics of Hanson, Lovia and the maids and then of course the usual banter between Belinda and her husband. Itâ€™s a lot,â€ Shirley added.
Shirley produced Dede with her husband, Ken Attoh, who has also been a player in other films. For her, Ken being by her side while contributing immensely is something that has become second nature.
â€œWe are constantly talking about our work and sharing ideas. I need that; it feeds my passion. It can get a bit much sometimes; we donâ€™t always agree on everything but thatâ€™s also what helps our growth as producers. We learn from each other,â€ she concluded.
Audience can watch the first 100 episodes of Dede on Showmax, with new episodes releasing weekly.