Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

TELEVISION - Jill Scott Plays Detective

I wrote about this early last year, and haven't heard anything about it since my post... until now.

The program is called The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and stars Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, who owns the titular Botswana-based agency. It made history as the first major production to be filmed in Botswana, the landlocked nation in Southern Africa.

The Botswana government reportedly provided five million dollars of funding for the project which has some powerhouse names behind it, like The Weinstein brothers, who are signed on as producers of the series, and directed by the late British director, Anthony Minghella.

A 2-hour pilot was produced in 2007 of a story that is based on a set of novels by the same name, written by author, Alexander McCall Smith (who's white, and Zimbabwean by the way).

Minghella purchased rights to the novels in 2004 - the story of Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott's character), who, with her natural inquisitiveness and intuition, decides to put her talents to use by becoming her country's first ever female detective, using the little wealth left by her dead husband.

The 2-hour pilot premiered on March 23rd, 2008, Easter Sunday, on BBC One, to tremendous audience response, inspiring the Weinsteins to convince HBO to pick up 13 episodes based on the series of novels, for American viewers.

Also starring are Anika Noni Rose, who has acted on just about every stage - theatre (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Terrence Howard and others), Television (Third Watch, 100 Centre Street), and film (Dreamgirls, notably).

Idris Elba costars as well. I think we all know who he is.

An article about the production I read from March 2008, on the UK Guardian website, made me cringe a little. In the article, Jill Scott is interviewed, and she talks about how the creators of the show, asked her to get bigger in size to play the lead role. The article is appropriately titled, " Gimme those cheesy rolls: Soul singer Jill Scott tells Elizabeth Day how she ate up the part of Mma Ramotswe in the TV version of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." In it, Jill Scott says, she put on 30lbs for the role by eating at least 2 or 3 Philly cheesesteak sandwiches a week; and despite that heart-attack inducing diet, the producers of the show wanted her even more plump, so they added padding to her hips, ass, arms and the boobs!

OK! Just how big does this detective have to be? Doesn't that in some way hinder her ability to solve cases? Keep in mind, of course, that this was a series of novels written by a white man.

The episodes were shot almost entirely on location, in Botswana's capital city, Gaborone, and thus, a lot of local talent was used in the production, which is a wonderful thing. In fact, I read that the majority of the crew were native to the country, which lays the foundations for future film productions, as government officials hope to generate a local film industry.

I just learned this morning, according to EURweb, that the series is due to premiere on HBO in March, this year. The Weinsteins and HBO aim to launch The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with the 2-hour pilot followed by the remaining 13 episodes. HBO's website just says "Coming In March," with no specific day listed. I guess that info will be revealed in the next month, with January halfway through.

Jill Scott, on Friday last week, promoted the new HBO series at the Television Critics Association conference, where the star revealed she was six months pregnant with her first child.

And thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can watch the most (if not all) of the 2-hour pilot on YouTube! Where else?

Here are 2 samples:

You can watch it all now, or wait until March for a better experience on your television, and likely, eventually, iTunes.


  1. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Well, it seems charming enough in that languid, post-colonial, third world sort of way... I do like the secretary - she adds some comedic pep to the proceedings.

    But I generally feel about it the way Brandon feels about Slumdog Millionnaire: Feel-good exotica. It should prove as popular as the novels were - here the UK, at least.

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