Actor Olumide Oworu reels off HIV stats like the FAQ section of an HIV prevention website. The 20-year-old portrays Weki, an HIV positive teenage schoolboy in MTV Shuga, a television series from the MTV Staying Alive Foundation that airs on MTV Base as part of a multimedia campaign to spread the message about responsible sexual behaviour and tolerance.
“[The cast] had lectures on HIV,” he said. “What it is, prevention, the importance of testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, what not to share – sharp blades, clippers, razors, scissors – that you can’t get HIV by hugging, you can’t get HIV eating with someone with HIV, and you can’t get HIV from kissing someone that has HIV.”
Oworu hit the red carpet at Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island, Lagos, on Thursday evening for the show’s season 4 premiere. He was joined by fellow season 3 cast members: Dorcas Shola Fapson, Timini Egbuson, Sharon Ezeamaka, Emmanuel Ikubese, Kenya’s Nick Mutuma and Chris Attoh, as well as newcomers Zoe Favour, Adesua Etomi, Jemima Osunde, South Africa’s Mohau Mokoatle, Ifeanyi Dike Jr. and Ghana’s Peace Hyde. MTV Shuga is made in partnership with NACA, PEPFAR, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and UNICEF.
Directed by Biyi Bandele and written by Yinka Ogun, MTV Shuga Season 4 has been described by Georgia Arnold, executive producer of the series and executive director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, as “the hardest-hitting Shuga yet.” Princess (Sharon Ezeamaka)struggles to deal with her HIV status amid fresh developments; Femi (Emmanuel Ikubese), another HIV positive character, comes to understand that marrying someone means marrying their entire family; Leo (Nick Mutuma), the only character to have survived all four seasons, gets plenty of screen time in the new season; Weki explores a new relationship with a schoolmate who does not know about his HIV status; and Tobi (Timini Egbuson) is caught between playing things safe or going the ‘bad boy’ route.
The new season also sees the addition of four adolescent characters who are still in secondary school. “These are such a crucial demographic for us to reach with these messages,” Arnold told the audience at the show’s premiere. “And as always, we have a very strong focus on living with HIV.”
What is most interesting to see is the ease with which the characters – and the actors themselves – deal with issues surrounding HIV. For characters who have received HIV awareness education, HIV is nothing to balk at. HIV positive characters Femi and Princess interact with peers who do not recoil or ostracize them for having the disease. Oworu tries to put himself in Weki’s shoes by contemplating how he would react to a partner’s HIV positive status revelation.
“I feel like before I did Shuga I probably would have ‘spazzed’ and been like ‘Okay, maybe we should just be friends’ but being on Shuga has just opened my eyes to a lot of realities. People can still live normal lives with HIV if it is managed properly. I’m warmer and more welcoming to the idea of actually coming in contact with people that have HIV. HIV is not the only disease out there. It’s like saying because someone has cancer you won’t give them a high-five. I’m very well enlightened now on the subject, and it’s exciting to tell people about it and pass on the knowledge.”
MTV Shuga Season 4 starts airing again on Sunday, September 13 on MTV Base (DStv channel 322) at 9.30pm.