Hear It Fresh Through The Grapevine: Ashley Akunna
With over 20,000 subscribers, The Grapevine has been an online success story that centers a panelists of black millennial and their varying thoughts on polarizing topics. Topics range from relationship, to race, to gender identity, and beyond. Behind the ever-growing success of the show is none other than the creator of the show–Ashley Akunna. We got a chance to talk to her to get a little bit more in-depth about her and the show, read below!
So I’m going to talk about you, as a person, for a little bit. First of all, who is Ashley Akunna? How would you describe yourself?
I’m a 1st generation Igbo Nigerian woman. I am a film maker and content creator, I’m an artist. I am the host and creator of The Grapevine.
You’ve brought up your Nigerian heritage a couple of times on the show, how has that shaped your outlook on life and your work ethic?
My parents came here in the early 80s from Nigeria and I’m very proud of it. I feel like Africans in general we’re hustlers, we’re go-getters and that definitely shapes the way I look at life. I feel like I have an attitude of, “who go’n stop me?” in the most humble way possible. I think, “look what I can attain” because my parents came to this country for my siblings and I which very much changed the way I go about life and how I look at things.
If someone asked you, “what is The Grapevine?” What is it all about? What would you say?
I would say The Grapevine is a panel-based show that deals with the issues of today from the perspective of a millennial. Millennials, I think, are a group that everybody talks about, everybody is trying to target in terms of products – in terms of selling content to – but I don’t know if people are really interested in hearing our voices. So, The Grapevine is a place where you can come and no matter what side of the political spectrum you stand on, you can see yourself represented at that table.
I know you describe it as a show for and by millennials, but would you describe it as a black show?
The original goal for this show was for it to be a diverse cast, but it’s hard to get people of different races to talk about serious topics like race and gender, so we just ended up casting people that we know such as friends and acquaintances. So as of right now, yes it very much is a black show but we’ve had some Indian people and some mixed people on this show, and we’re definitely looking to expand our horizons.
How and why did The Grapevine originate? How did you go about starting?
The Grapevine started after I graduated college and I had the idea to create a platform for millennials to talk about issues that concerns us because I watched news shows like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper, with my parents and the millennial perspective wasn’t really prevalent. So I said, “why don’t I create the conversation we have online and put it on-screen?” and that is how the show originated.
I think your regular cast is so interesting because you have such a range in ideologies that really indicate that black millennials aren’t a monolith. How did you come about bringing your original/regular cast together?
My friends are very diverse and I realized that I could go into different conversations with different groups of people who wouldn’t necessarily hang out with each other and who have different perspectives and I found that interesting. I feel like if we want the change we want to see in society, we have to be willing to have these hard conversations that make us uncomfortable, with people that we might not necessarily like. So that’s kind of how I came up with the idea of the different personalities you see on the show now.
You also have guests based on certain topics, like you recently had Tiq Milan, a trans-man, on the panel for a topic on trans identity. How do you get those panelists?
Just sourcing friends, putting S.O.S’s out on Facebook, asking friends if they know anybody, putting up casting calls on IG and stuff like that.
How do you pick the topics that you guys discuss?
We kind of just see what is popular at the time. Like what gets people seated, what gets people aroused. The producers and I have a group chat, and we post questions to each other and we ask each other, “would this be interesting?”, “would we have an audience for this?” and so far, so good, that’s worked. Definitely keeping our eye and ear to the ground and seeing what could be a conversation among friends that can be put on-screen
So far, what has been your favorite topic to cover?
Favorite topics I think, would have to be our relationship based topics. I’m a woman and I’m interested in the ways men interact so I think those have been my favorite conversations and I think people can expect to see more of those topics.
Least favorite topic?
I don’t think I have any yet. For me, the reason I started this show, and the reason why I think this show is successful is because I really have an interest in why/what people think about a variety of things. So there is no topic – I mean topics might be hard to discuss – but there’s no topic that I’m not interested in, or I don’t want to know what people are saying.
Speaking of hard topics, are you ever concerned that the topics you cover are too sensitive? Or that someone is going to say something really offensive?
We do have some hard topics that we discuss and I never want other panelists to feel uncomfortable so I definitely sometimes feel bad or a bit hesitant when we talk about certain things that I know are going to question and individual’s lifestyle or something like that. I’m sensitive to other people’s needs but again we need to have those hard conversations.
How are you able to remain somewhat objective so that both sides are heard?
I mean there are times on set where I’ve lost my mind so I’m not going to say I’m perfect but I think a lot of it is just separating myself from the topic at hand and just looking at the objective and not the emotional part of it which is hard but I think looking at things objectively and being able to step out of certain things, as sensitive as it may be, helps us to understand why the opposing side views things the way that they do.
You guys have had some pretty heated debates, and towards the end you’re yelling for everyone to wrap up, does the discussion continue after the cameras are off?
Definitely. We have some BTS footage coming out, hopefully soon, and you can see Donovan in the back talking to these guys and trying to get them to understand certain things. Even during lunch when we’re eating and getting coffee – the conversation continues.
During these discussions do you ever see changes in people’s mindsets?
Probably not right away but definitely after. People have definitely changed.
So where do you see The Grapevine in 5-10 years? What are your hopes for The Grapevine?
In 5-10 years The Grapevine will definitely be on network television and it will expand globally. That is the vision that I see for The Grapevine. We’re going to take it to its pinnacle. We grow everyday and it’s an organic growth. It hasn’t been a shot to the top, which I think we will all appreciate once we get to where I know we’re going. We’re all probably going to shed some tears and be really happy but we definitely want to get on network, we definitely want this to be a show that is in syndication and you can turn on your TV and watch it. We want to expand to Paris and to Brazil because people are having these conversations there. We’re going to be having live events, so yeah, this show is going to be big. I have no doubt in my mind.
How can we, at home, help you guys reach your goals?
Just continue to spread the word, telling your friends to watch, sharing it on social media, watching it, subscribing to our channel, donating financially to our PayPal. Just consistent support. Subscribe, watch, share, donate. We don’t ask for much. And also continuing the conversation in the comments section, on twitter, on Facebook, just post on social media, “like hey I watched this cool video, what do you guys think?” Help us engage in the conversation.