It was back in 2017 when Tolu Olowofoyeku, Hamid Ibrahim, and Fikayo Adeola, friends and animators from Nigeria and Uganda, established Kugali; – a pan-African creative company. The comic book collection they came up with was born out of a desire to tell modern African stories; as they were fed up with non-Africans telling African stories, hence creating Kugali Media in 2017 to tell stories out of the continent; as inspired by African culture using comic books, art and augmented reality”.

“The idea was that in science fiction there were hardly any black people – it was as though they were passing on the message that there are no black people in the future,” Nelson told the BBC in 2019. Through the entertainment company, the three founders created a comic book collection titled “Iwaju”, set in a futuristic Lagos — Nigeria’s capital city.

Now, “Iwaju” — which roughly translates to “the future” in the Yoruba language spoken in West Africa — has been picked up as a new long-form TV series by Walt Disney Animation Studios and is now set to reach a much wider global audience than they could have hoped with a comic book.

Iwaju logo
Iwaju logo (Picture: BBC)

According to their website; ‘This show will combine Disney’s magic and animation expertise with Kugali’s fire and storytelling authenticity,” Nelson said. They work in the Afrofuturism genre, referencing African history and tradition, which in part tries to address the absence of Africans within mainstream science fiction.

The creators believe it is also an opportunity for Disney to tell a modern and authentic African story to the world using the entertainment behemoth’s animation and distribution prowess. Now, with the Disney collaboration, he says that “Iwájú [which means “the future” in the Yoruba language] represents a personal childhood dream of mine to tell my story and that of my people”.

Disney Animation studios  announced yesterday that the animated series will globally premiere on its fast-growing streaming service Disney+ in 2022, calling it a “first-of-its-kind collaboration.”

Though at this stage the creators are not giving anything/ specific details away about the plot, Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer, Jennifer Lee, said it will explore themes of “class, innocence and challenging the status quo.”

Speaking about Kugali, Lee added “their talents as storytellers blew us away.” I’m proud to announce the first of its kind collaboration to bring original long for series to Disney+,” Disney Animation studios’ chief creative officer, Jennifer Lee, said of Kugali while speaking at Disney’s investor day this week.

Disney says that not only will this be the first time one of its projects will be set in an Africa “that is envisioned and told by filmmakers from the region”, but it is also the first collaboration with another creative company “to bring a project to fruition”.

This is not the first time Disney has partnered with African entertainment companies. In September, the studio teamed up with Nigeria’s FilmOne entertainment to distribute Disney-owned films in English-speaking West Africa.

Disney used the investor day to unveil several major announcements extensions to its storied franchises including Star Wars and for its Marvel characters. The world’s largest entertainment company has been under pressure to expand and boost its range of content as it doubles down with its Disney + platform to compete in the so-called streaming wars with Netflix and more recently HBO in the US and globally.

Disney+ has grown rapidly since debuting in November 2019 and now has 86 million subscribers globally, compared with Netflix’s near 200 million subscribers as of the third quarter, built over 13 years.  Disney projects it will have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by the end of its fiscal year 2024 which is a huge jump from its initial projections in 2019 of 60 million to 90 million subscribers.

While Disney has had huge success with Africa-influenced tentpoles including Marvel’s Black Panther and Lion King it has no established track record of working with African creatives but it has started to move in that direction. In September, Disney Studios collaborated with Nigeria’s cinema chain FilmOne Entertainment to distribute Disney-owned films in English-speaking West Africa.

Netflix, which is much further along in working with African creatives in Nigeria’s Nollywood and South Africa’s TV and film industry, has become increasingly influential on the continent as it rolls out original shows produced by local talent, producers and executives including Queen Sono and Blood and Water and movies including Lionheart.

Africa’s animation film sector is growing rapidly with young talented animators and local collaborators create new, mostly short, features. This month saw the unveiling of Nigeria’s first animated full-length feature film titled Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters.

Last year, Netflix revealed it had partnered with Cape Town-based animation studios Triggerfish for a new series called Mama K’s Team 4the story of an all-girl-team of African spies, who also happen to be four normal Zambian teens by day.

Iwájú is due to be released on the Disney+ channel in 2022.

Disney Announces Iwájú – An Animated Series by Kugali