Kenya’s COUNTRY QUEEN: The story behind the series

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The pilot of Kenya’s Country Queen, a high-end authentically Kenyan and yet globally accessible TV series, has already created intense buzz and excitement within the industry.

Beyond its high production value, this Kenyan-German co-production has broken down barriers and created new norms based on its unique focus on the rural communities of Kenya, as well as its collaborative and Kenyan focused production process.

With its cinematic production style and quality, the pilot has been widely acclaimed and will soon continue with production of the full series.

Country Queen was first created in 2017 by a writers’ room comprising 10 Kenyan creatives with diverse experience in visual storytelling, and with the assistance of Good Karma Fiction from Germany. The writers included Lydia Matata, Annette Shadeya, Mkamzee Mwatela, Shirleen Wangari, Oprah Oyugi, Wanjeri Gakuru, Kimani Waweru, Florence Onyango, Ian Kithinji and Kamau Wandung’u. As part of the process, all of the writers underwent a series of workshops run by Brazilian Telenovela specialists James McSill and Carla Bohler.

Country Queen focuses on the fast-paced and perilous world of Nairobi as well as on the slower rural life, as told through the rarely highlighted tribe of the Akamba community.

The pilot episode was shot between January  7 and 25 2019 across various stunning locations in Nairobi, Machakos and Kajiado counties. It involved 45 actors, 51 crewmembers and 160 extras, almost all of whom are Kenyan.

The Country Queen pilot is directed by Vincent Mbaya, a Kenyan professional who started his career in 2000 as an actor and has worked across various disciplines including documentary film, reality TV, commercials and drama. Directing coach Carla Bohler codirected.

“As a passionate story teller, I for a long time had felt a gap as there was not much narrative work up for grabs at the quality that would really get me excited. When I had my first meeting about country queen I knew that gap would be filled. The process turned out to be quite fulfilling, very detailed, nothing left to chance, an opportunity to exercise my creative muscles in a world class drama production. I cannot wait to get going on the full series,” said Mbaya. The series is coproduced by award winning Kenyan producer, Kamau Wandung’u, born and raised in Mathare near Nairobi. Kamau has been an Actor, Director & Producer for over 15 years and is best known for directing the ZIFF Ousmane Sembene Award Winner Maria, and producing the award winning Ndoto Za Elibidi.  

The Films’ Director of Photography, Andrew Mungai has been trained in LA and has been working as a cinematographer on independent feature films, short films, documentaries and music videos since 2009, including on films such as KatiKati that won the FIPRESCI Award at the 2016 TIFF.

The film also boasts a strong ensemble cast that combines many of Kenya’s best-known actors as well as young emerging talent.

The lead role of the beautiful and ambitious Akisa is played by Melissa Kiplagat, an internationally trained professional actress who, after securing her degree in Economics from the Ivy-League, Brown University, found herself returning to acting in time to be trained by some of the best acting instructors in the US, including Lowry Marshal and Kym Moore.

Playing the role of the ruthless and intelligent Vivienne is Nini Wacera, one of Kenya’s most well known and loved actresses who has appeared in more than a dozen films and television series including Desperate Housewifes,

Africa and Rafiki. Blessing Lung’aho, known for his roles in Mother in Law and PREM, plays Max, Vivienne’s charming husband, a former gangster who now runs the seedy side of her mining company.

Melvin Alusa, who first rose to fame during his stint on Big Brother Hotshot, plays the reluctant hero Kyalo, while Sheila Munyiva, who recently starred in Rafiki, plays the village’s medical officer and Kyalo’s lovable girlfriend next door, Anna.

The cast also includes Raymond Ofula, recently on Netflix film The Boy who Harnassed the Wind, Oliver Litondo(The first Grader), Mumbi Maina (Netflix’s  Sense 8), Nancy Karanja (Nairobi Half Life, MTV Shuga), Johnson ‘Fish’ Chege  (Nairobi Half Life, Supa Modo), Nice Githinji (Rafiki), Muthoni Gathecha (Rafiki), Lwanda Jawar (Sense 8), Eddy Kimani (Nairobi Half Life, In a Better World, The Distant Boat) and Charlie Karumi (Nairobi Half Life, Watu Wote).

Country Queen is produced by Good Karma Fiction, supported by Federal German Ministry for Economic Collaboration and Development and Deutsche Welle Akademie, and in partnership with Kenyan Production Company Tililiz Pictures. Good Karma Fiction is currently sourcing additional financing for the first season of County Queen series.

About Country Queen

Country Queen is a family drama series set in contemporary Kenya that centres on Akisa, a Nairobi IT girl estranged from her family and village, Tsilanga. When her father falls ill,
Akisa returns to a community divided after a mining company discovers gold on their
land.