'Riches': Abby Ajayi on creating Prime Video’s new series and exploring black excellence

‘Riches’: Abby Ajayi on creating Prime Video’s new series and exploring black excellence

Set in London, the 6-episode show follows five siblings fighting for control of their deceased Nigerian-British father’s black beauty empire.

Following the sudden death of the self-made tycoon Stephen Richards, his wife and children discover that he has disinherited them, leaving his shares instead to his estranged American children, Nina and Simon, from his first marriage.

This unexpected move sets the scene for a drama-packed show as the audience gets to see an epic battle for control of the family business, filled with lies, secrets, betrayal and sex.

Ahead of the show’s premiere, Pulse Nigeria got to chat with the brilliant mind behind the new series, which is already getting compared to fan favourites like ‘Succession,’ ‘Yellowstone,’ and ‘Empire.’

The creator takes us to the beginning of her career, explaining how she got the idea for her latest project, ‘Riches’ and her hopes for the audience.

The interview is edited for length and clarity.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did this all start for you?

I think I was always a reader and a watcher. I read a lot growing up and I watched a lot of television—too much, according to my parents. Around a certain point, I was like, ‘do people actually do this for a job?’ But growing up in North London, I didn’t know that many people who were writers. So like lots of first-generation immigrant kids, I studied law, all the while watching all the legal shows and thinking, “I want to write a legal show; I don’t actually want to be a lawyer.” I worked in development for the BBC and did a lot of unpaid work, trying to learn about the business. I read all the books I could find about writing for TV, and I read all the scripts I could get my hands on. This was in the kind of early days of blogs and stuff, so I would read all these American bloggers talking about being screenwriters or trying to be screenwriters. Ultimately, my way in was working as a development assistant at the BBC. I helped make other people’s scripts, and then as a result of that, wrote my own script, showed it to a producer, and then got my first screen credit on a children’s drama at the BBC. That’s how I started. It’s been a 15-year journey of trying to find the next opportunity, the next job, and kind of cobbling together a career, which is really difficult because the opportunities weren’t always there. That was sort of why, about five years ago, I decided to try and find work in the US. At that point, my law background was helpful, which is how I got a job on ‘How To Get Away With Murder,’ which is a legal show.

You have had an impressive career working on great shows like the previously mentioned ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ the TV adaptation of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and the Netflix/ Shonda Rhimes series ‘Inventing Anna.’ How did you choose ‘Riches’ as your next project?

I can’t speak for all writers, but for me creating something original has always been a goal. Alongside working on those shows, it was always like, “what are the other stories that I want to tell as an originator and creator and in this case, as a director as well?” The production company and I had been talking about areas of interest, and they talked about the cosmetics industry. I was interested in hair and cosmetics because, I think black women, hair and cosmetics are such central elements of our lives. It can also be incredibly politicised. But it’s also an incredibly lucrative market so, immediately my interest was aroused. I love family business shows because they’re relatable. We all have families. With family business shows, the drama is so built-in; how the squabbles go from the boardroom to the sitting room, and how it all bleeds into each other. You know nothing corrupts quite like money, and with money amongst family, the stakes are very high. So, family business, money, power, and black ambition were all the things that I thought would be a really fun and exciting way to tell a story about a black British Nigerian family, which had high stakes and fun at the heart of it.

What do you want the audience to take from this fascinating family drama?

It is a diaspora show. It’s about British Nigerians. It’s about Nigerians, American Nigerians, and Nigerian Americans. I want the audience to see the black diaspora and how we are everywhere. Our ambition and the immigrant grip that carries us through. I want the audience to be entertained by this family mess and drama because that’s what you relate to. Ultimately, to feel as though this is a fun show, but that there is something more substantive I’m saying about ambition, black entrepreneurial spirit, the black business and black ownership.

The new family drama joins Prime Video’s rich catalogue of series including successful series like ‘Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ and ‘The Boys.’

‘Riches’ is currently streaming on Prime Video.

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