Disney announced a spate of upcoming projects at its 2020 Investor Day. This included updates on the Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney Studios. It also announced milestones with Disney+ and its other streaming services. Although, that’s not the news.
What caught people’s attention in-between Disney’s 52 announcements was that Disney was collaborating with a Nigerian and Uganda founded entertainment entity, Kugali Media, to create a long-form animated series that would premiere on Disney+ in 2022.
This partnership would lead to the production of an adapted comic book titled, Iwájú. Iwájú roughly translates as “the future” in Yoruba language. The animation is set in Lagos, Nigeria.
Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, Jennifer Lee said that the story is steeped in science-fiction as it explores themes of class, innocence, and challenging the status quo.
Production is set to begin in 2021.
Not The First Time
While this was delightful news, this isn’t the first time Disney is collaborating on an African comic project. In 2018, Disney announced that it was creating a live-action fairytale film “Sadé.” The film was set to be directed by “Dope” director, Rick Famuyiwa. The studio had bought a pitch from Lindsey Reed and Ola Shokumbi who were to co-write the screenplay of the film.
Set in an African Kingdom, Sadè is centered on an African girl who is to save her kingdom with her newly found magical powers against mysterious forces threatening her people.
For unknown reasons, the project did not find its way to the screen.
But with the new announcement, there’s newfound hope that an African animated story may be hitting the screen.
Black Panther’s $1.3 billion box office success saw Disney smile to the bank in 2018. The glorious story of Wakanda, set in a fictional African nation rose to the top of the worldwide box offices crowning Disney with incredible profit from a $200 million budget.
This might suggest why Disney is looking to work with African creatives. Helping them to tell the African story.
The African Comic Industry
Africa’s movie industry is booming. There’s no doubt why many movies are coming out of the different movie industries across the continent. However, the animation industry is still in its infancy. If Iwájú sees the light of the day, it might begin a movement. If it’s a success, it will allow for a deluge of new animated works coming from the continent.
The comic industry has many proponents. Rather than being the work of an established industry, it has been the work of individuals genuinely interested in telling Africa’s stories. Many translating American comic superheroes into African Mythology and heroes.
Roye Okupe, Founder of YouNeek Studios, told Independent in 2017 that he had started his studios because while growing there were really no Nigerian comic books. Those that existed were imported from the US. “I always thought it would be cool to do a superhero story based on a Nigerian character,” Okupe said.
YouNeek Studios, created in 2015, went on to release Malika: Warrior Queen in 2019. Now with over 600 thousand views on YouTube, Malika is the story of a queen who tries to maintain peace in her Kingdom of Azzaz where adversaries won’t stop rising.
Roye isn’t the only Comic crooner from Nigeria. Comic Republic, a Nigerian Comics startup has created something similar to “Africa’s Avengers.” Jide Martin founded the company in 2013. What had started as a passion project published online with a nine-person team, and downloaded by a couple of hundred people is now being downloaded monthly by over 30,000.
Seeing the acceptance of their works, Comic Republic has worked with companies to create comics for their products. The company has also worked with NGOs to create illustrations on public health and malaria.
Many Nigerians grew up reading the only Comic available: Supa Strikas. Today, there are many publishers and comic book creators working towards telling stories to a global audience.
Nnedi Okorafor, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author created LaGuardia with Marvel’s Venomerse Anthology. LaGuardia follows the story of a pregnant woman Nigerian-American as she battles interrogation and discrimination in an alternative world where aliens are integrated with society.
Other publishers like Mad! comics, Crasher Comics, Wild Fire, Epoch Comics, ShadowBlack Comics, Revolution Media are among the growing names in the space. They tell stories ranging from everyday Nigerian life to mythological worlds to wicked satires. With the help of social media, their works are finding new audiences around the world.
As of December 10, 2020, The Verge reported Disney announced that it surpassed 86 million subscribers on Disney+. At its launch, Disney+ was to reach 60 million to 90 million subscriptions by 2024. While this is an impressive feat, Disney+ isn’t officially available to Africans.
With the announcement of Iwájú, Disney’s goal to reach 90 million subscribers is closer. New fans of the African animations may find reasons to subscribe to the streaming service. For many Africans, the announcement hints at an inevitable Disney+ official launch on the continent.
For many in the African comic industry, it’s an interesting time to be alive. Hannu Afere, a comic writer with Revolution Media, told me that, “It is a beautiful development, African stories told by Africans themselves on such a platform.” Disney’s adaptation offers a glimmer of hope to many creators working in the industry.
Hannu thinks that with the announcement comes global appeal and more access to African creators to create on more influential platforms. “We’ve always known it could be done, but no one has actually ever done it like this, on this scale. We are witnessing the birth of what I hope would be a movement of creatives making more interactive and innovative art across different kinds of platforms.”
This milestone is important because of Disney’s reach and influence. Recently, Netflix picked Mama K’s Super 4 and Cartoon Network is also developing Moshood Ridwan’s series, Garbage Boy and Trash Can. With these announcements, the future looks remarkable.
The comic industry has always worked towards amplifying the stories of Africa. As one of the authors of Iwájú said, “Most of what you find out there about Africa is being told by non-Africans, and it was crucial to us that Africans tell their own stories.” With Iwájú, the future has arrived.