‘Talking about black ambition was important to me’

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Creator Abby Ajayi is aware of the inevitable comparisons between her new Prime Video drama series “Riches” and HBO’s “Succession.”

“There are so many shows about families, at the point when I started developing it, [but] I was more looking at real life [families] — the Hiltons, the Kardashians, the Guccis,” she told The Post. “By the time we were given the green light, ‘Succession’ had already come on television.”

Premiering Dec. 2, “Riches” is about five siblings fighting for control of their deceased Nigerian-British father’s empire in the Black beauty industry.  Self-made tycoon Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) left his first wife and two children when his oldest daughter was 7. 

Now adults, ambitious businesswoman Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and gay stylist Simon (Emmanuel Imani) live in America, and they haven’t spoken to their estranged father in over 20 years. His second family is his scheming widow Claudia (Sarah Niles, “Ted Lasso”), flighty influencer Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), party boy with an inferiority complex Gus (Ola Orebiyi) and practical Wanda (Nneka Okoye). 

“I think it’s always flattering to compare it to something that’s hugely successful,” Ajayi said. “But I feel like the themes in ‘Succession,’  ‘Yellowstone,’ ‘Empire,’ and [‘Riches’] are just perennial human themes that go back to Shakespeare.”

The American siblings: Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and Simon (Emmanuel Imani). David Hindley/Prime Video

The three British siblings: Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), Gus (Ola Orebiyi), and Wanda (Nneka Okoye).
Prime Video

The two branches of Stephen’s family meet at the reading of his will following his death, and it’s not all sunshine and roses — since everyone is stunned to hear that he left his entire company to Nina and Simon. 

“I love family drama stories, and family business stories,” said Ajayi (“How to Get Away with Murder,” “Inventing Anna”), who will also be the showrunner on upcoming series “The Plot,” starring Mahershala Ali. 

“I grew up watching shows like ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Dallas,’” she said. “But even in real life, whether you’re watching the Guccis or the Kardashians or the Hiltons, I was always intrigued by how the stakes are raised when blood and money are mixed. And the producers and I were talking about areas in which we could bring in a black family business. Cosmetics and hair were the piece that really brought it together for me. Because I thought that was a way into a glamorous and visually fun world, which would still allow me to tell stories, in the zeitgeist, that have substance to them. And being able to talk about black ambition was important to me.

“Those were the various areas I was thinking about when I started developing the show.” 

Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) in “Riches.” Prime Video

Claudia (Sarah Niles) in “Riches.” Prime Video

Similar to her characters, Ajayi has lived in both England and America, and she wanted the show to reflect that, she said. 

“It speaks to something the show highlights, which is the black diaspora,” she said. “My parents came from Nigeria to England in the ’60s, but one of my mom’s sisters went to America. So there’s a branch of my family that has American accents and were born in America, and I was born in London. For a lot of black Africans, you have roots that take you from West Africa to Europe to America. I think that’s also what distinguishes this from other family shows out there. It’s something we haven’t seen as much of on television, but it’s a very real experience.” 

Stephen’s widow, Claudia (Sarah Niles) in “Riches.” Prime Video

Abby Ajayi (far right). Amazon Studios

She said that her previous experiences in working on Shonda Rhimes shows helped with “Riches.” 

 “What I learned was the importance of pacing dynamic stories that keep audiences hooked in. And personally, working as a black Brit who came to America to further my ambition to work in television, [Rhimes] was such a beacon,” she said. “The way she encourages female creatives to take up space in the room was hugely inspiring in how I can create my own show.” 

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