Iwájú: Nigerian Science Fiction Animation Miniseries

Iwájú: Nigerian Science Fiction Animation Miniseries

IWÁJÚ is a testament to the power of African storytelling. Kugali, recognized for its captivating animation, has partnered with the legendary Walt Disney Animation Studios to create a fresh narrative. This collaboration shatters barriers in African animation, sparking excitement, hope, and ambition amongst creators across the continent.

Iwájú is an animated science fiction miniseries produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Pan-African British-based entertainment company Kugali Media for the streaming service Disney+. It was written by Olufikayo Adeola and Halima Hudson from a story by Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim, and Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku and directed by Adeola, and is the first “original long-form animated series” produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The title of the series, iwájú, roughly translates to “the future” in the Yoruba language (literally “front-facing”).

iWÁJÚ follows the captivating adventures of Tola, a young wealthy, Nigerian girl and her best friend, Kola, a self-thought, tech-wiz. Set in the buzzing, futuristic megacity of Lagos, Nigeria. The story unfolds as Tola ventures beyond the comfort of Lagos Island and into the bustling mainland, defying caution.

The Disney+ series Iwájú (which means “the future” in the west African Yoruba language) is more specific in its Afrofuturism. It takes place in a future Lagos that has embraced the technological advancements while retaining a solid sense of Nigerian identity. The story follows young Tola (Simisola Gbadamosi), a girl from an affluent island suburb, who longs to connect with her father, a successful tech entrepreneur. Her dad is well intentioned but overstretched, having helped shape this new world. He believes “technology brings opportunity”; he has used AI and blockchain technology to try to eradicate crime and turn Lagos into a utopia.

The best way to take in this miniseries is with a shallow focus – by enjoying the vibrant, jewel-toned animation, the Afrobeats soundtrack and the wonderful Nigerian voice cast, who can even make exposition about blockchain sing. At a time when Disney’s Marvel properties are failing to deliver critically and financially and the animated cinematic slate has been criticised for relying too heavily on sequels and spin-offs, the streaming output of Disney+ has shown ingenuity and a global outlook.

There is a refreshing specificity to this Lagos in the food, architecture and intricately embroidered agbadas that billow in the wind. The team behind it – the comic-book entertainment company Kugali – has pan-African and British roots, but the show never journeys beyond Lagos’s city limits. It is bold for Disney+, which is not available in Nigeria, to presume that non-Nigerian audiences will invest in our young Yoruba protagonist. Still, even if you don’t know your suya from your puff-puffs, there are plenty of universal themes – self-identity, family, independence – to grab on to, plus an adorable pet lizard sidekick.

Audiences that don’t know what a blockchain is (seriously, please explain to me what a blockchain is), or how digital heists might work in this age of cybersecurity and surveillance, will be left none the wiser. But the show illuminates parts of Nigerian identity that are rarely celebrated on a global stage. It is an unashamedly optimistic look at the country’s future and a celebration of the diaspora’s talents. There is so much untapped potential when it comes to telling stories about Africa’s past, present and prospects. While Iwájú is featherlight fun for all the family, it is also an encouraging step into a bold and brilliant future.

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