'Bob Hearts Abishola' actor Gina Yashere says it was 'extremely important' to tell the story of immigrants

In an interview with MEAWW, Yashere said that it is 'great' to have a sitcom that shows immigrants as just people with families, loves, hates and regular jobs

                            'Bob Hearts Abishola' actor Gina Yashere says it was 'extremely important' to tell the story of immigrants
Gina Yashere (Getty Images)

Like almost every television show that was still in the midst of filming when production was halted due to the current coronavirus crisis, 'Bob Hearts Abishola' will be airing a shorter freshman season. Gina Yashere, the sitcom's co-executive producer, writer, and actor spoke to MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) about this and more including her experience becoming part of the show and the controversy the sitcom created.

Yashere first got a call when she was living in New York. Her agent said that Chuck Lorre wanted to meet him to consult on a show he had an idea for, where Billy Gardell falls in love with a Nigerian nurse. Lorre and the other producers wanted a Nigerian woman to consult on the show because they wanted to write the character from her perspective — to know what was authentic, and what wasn't, to know the names, tribes, and culture of Nigeria to implement on the show. Then, Lorre and the other producers decided they could not write the show without Yashere, and she joined as an executive producer.

Yashere also spoke about casting Folake Olowofoyeku in the role of Abishola — she told MEAWW that she wanted a Nigerian actress to play the part to achieve authenticity. She said, "If we're going to use any of the Yoruba languages in the script, you have [to have] a Nigerian actress to play that part or at least an African actress, at the very least, an African actress." Yashere said Folake was perfect for the role and that nobody else could beat her performance.

The co-executive producer also spoke about working with Billy Gardell, saying, "[He] is the most generous, kind sweetheart. He's very down to earth and it makes for a really nice working environment. [I am] grateful to just be in [this] position. We're kind of like a family on set."

Gina Yashere and Folake Olowofoyeku as Kemi and Abishola on 'Bob Hearts Abishola' (CBS)

Yashere told MEAWW that it was "extremely important" to tell the story of immigrants. She said, "Immigrants have been vilified and demonized by this current administration. It's great to have a [sitcom] that shows immigrants as just people with families, loves, hates, and regular jobs. They're not trying to take anything from you. We're just trying to live our lives and make it more comfortable for ourselves and our family."

She continues, "So it's great that the show is about love and acceptance and kindness and, this is very much needed at this time. Whenever we show immigrants, [it's] always with the same old stories and the same old tropes — we're either downtrodden or criminals or we're illegal."

'Bob Hearts Abishola' also created history when it featured multiple long scenes with Nigerian characters speaking extensively in Yoruba, with subtitles displayed throughout. Yashere credited Chuck Lorre with the idea — when she suggested throwing in Yoruba words here and there, he "grabbed that idea and went with it full throttle."

Yashere said that Bayo Akinfemi and Anthony Okungbowa — who play Bob's employees Goodwin and Kofo — have great chemistry. "Whenever they did these things, it was so funny that we just kept writing more and more. It's become a thing now where whenever they want to talk about Bob or talk about anything in front of the other characters without them understanding, they switched to Yoruba and it just makes for really funny scenes," she added. 

Yashere also said that when the writers wrote the scene where Abishola and Kemi (played by Yashere herself) fought over Chukwuemeka, they switched to Yoruba because that is their mother tongue — it was written into the script because the writers thought that it would be very funny. Yashere had to learn Yoruba to do the scene.

Yashere said that the last two episodes of the first season of 'Bob Hearts Abishola' had to be cut. She promises that the finale was a "wonderful" episode, but should the sitcom be renewed for Season 2, she says that fans can watch the cut episodes as the first two episodes of Season 2.

Anthony Okungbowa and Bayo Akinfemi as Kofo and Goodwin in 'Bob Hearts Abishola' (CBS)

In this week's episode, Bob's ex-wife comes back into the picture, causing concern for Abishola. Meanwhile, Bob's sister, Christina sets her sights on Kofo, making Goodwin anxious.

Yashere also spoke about Barry Shabaka Henley and Shola Adewusi who play Abishola's Uncle Tunde and Aunt Olu. She said of Henley, "[He's] an amazing actor, it was cool to get him."

It was Yashere that suggested Adewusi's name to Lorre after seeing her on TV shows in the UK. Adewusi — who is British of Nigerian origin like Yashere — was cast after she auditioned in London.

When the show first premiered, it received a lot of backlash over one particular scene where Abishola fought with an African-American woman — the show was deemed to be racist. However, Yashere maintains that the scene needed to be watched in its entirety when they were complaining about the "incendiary part."

She says, "The [scene] highlighted the old school ideas and prejudices that exist within Africans born in Africa, and Africans growing outside of Africa. Abishola and Kemi claim to get their ideas about African-Americans from Fox News. Them saying that [shows] how misguided they are in their opinions and that's what the scene was trying to highlight, that these ideas and prejudices are misguided and rooted in the divide and conquer tactics that were used through white supremacy to keep us apart. So that's what that scene was meant to do."

'Bob Hearts Abishola' airs on CBS on Monday nights at 8:30 pm ET.

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