Iwájú is the result of a 'groundbreaking' Disney Animation and Pan-African partnership that's the first of its kind

Iwájú is the result of a 'groundbreaking' Disney Animation and Pan-African partnership that's the first of its kind

By abc.net.au
Wednesday 28/02/2024
Iwájú debuts on Disney+ on Wednesday.(Supplied: Disney+)

In the first episode of the comic-style animated series Iwájú, set in Lagos, Nigeria, we meet a young girl by the name of Tole.

By episode two, Tole's innocence, charm and wry sense of humour leaves its mark.

"I know you're talking about me," she says in that episode.

"I'm 10. I get subtext now."

Iwájú is both uniquely African, and yet universal in its appeal.

"I think that all good stories have some kind of universal theme," director Olufikayo "Ziki" Adeola told the ABC.

"Because at the end of the day, they speak to the deeper humanity that unites every human being on this earth.

"But specifically, with Iwájú, I'd always wanted to tell a story that re-imagines Lagos, Nigeria, where I'm from, through a futuristic lens."

The issue of class is explored through characters such as Tole, who lives on an island with her wealthy father, but is itching to explore the more modest mainland.

"One of the things that intrigued me the most are the social cultural and social political dynamics in Lagos, where you have these two land masses, the mainland, where most of the working class and less wealthy people live. And then you have the island in Lagos today, where most of the wealthier people live," Adeola said.

"I always felt that, given this particular dynamic and context, it was going to lead to a very interesting future where there was a story to be told."

The word Iwájú is part of a phrase in the Yoruba language which essentially means future, and this imagined future involves flying luxury cars that can get ahead of the traffic.

Every intricate detail has been thought of – from the sandals that adorn the feet of Tole's best friend Kole to the woven baskets filled with colourful fruit at the market – Iwájú is beautiful to look at and the story draws you in.

"It was very important to me that anyone who has been to Lagos or has lived in Lagos, even though this is a futuristic sci-fi story, anyone who knows Lagos would be able to watch this and recognise their Lagos in the story," Adeola said.

"And so that's why we really pushed for that authenticity, but then also to the combine that with a sense of escapism, because at the end of the day, this isn't a documentary. We want people to watch this and have fun."

The story behind the story

Behind the scenes is also a captivating story.

In 2019, it came to Disney's attention that a young and innovative Pan-African collective called Kugali Media was determined to "kick Disney's arse in Africa" by sharing African stories with the world.

Those words and sentiment came from production designer Hamid Ibrahim.

"The reason I said that quote – kick Disney's arse – a lot of people think I was joking when I said that, but I meant it," Ibrahim told the ABC.

"And that's because Africa has a vast array of stories. Like, one of the most diverse cultures in the world, right? Because of the different countries in Africa.

"I picked Disney because Disney was a big boy in the space. If they were not going to tap into those stories, inevitably, at some point, we're going to kick their you know what."

Disney got in touch and an unprecedented partnership was formed.

"Disney Animation has never collaborated in this way with an outside company in its one hundred years of filmmaking," said Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

"And so this was absolutely groundbreaking."

Ibrahim points out there are still many stories to be told from the vast continent.

"Disney took that bold, first step that showed people it can be done," he said.

"Because a lot of people had doubts. Oh, maybe the internet… are they going to get smuggled… but Disney has shown people that Africa can do these stories, all we need is some backing and trust from the rest of the world to receive us, and we can give them these amazing stories."

When it came to Iwájú, authenticity was key and find that right balance fell to cultural consultant Toluwalakin "Tolu" Olowofoyeku.

"We had a fashion designer from Lagos to design the clothes," Olowofoyeku said.

"A lot of the artists that designed the characters and their costumes are African, some are Nigerian.

"We had a Nigerian artist design the vehicles, so we just put a lot of effort into making, even when it's futuristic, making it feel like you could actually see this in Lagos."

Having a fresh eye looking over the project was also critical.

"So I come from Uganda [where] things a little bit more calmer," Ibrahim said.

"So, when Tolu would describe some things in Lagos, I would think he's exaggerating it a little bit.

"But when I got to see them there by myself, it gives you a three-point perspective, because I've lived in London for a bit, so I can see the difference between Lagos and the West, let's say.

"And then I can see the difference between Lagos specifically and Uganda, which are two different African places.

"And that's what allows me to drill into the actual things that make Lagos very unique. Whereas if I lived there, some of the things seem normal or you'll think maybe this is all of Africa. But there's some things which are very uniquely Lagos."

He cited for example seeing a tall, beautiful building right next to a goat farm.

"One of the biggest things is there is an audacity inside Lagos itself," Ibrahim said.

"And that spirit of audacity, we had to capture in every single aspect."

Story By: Mawunyo Gbogbo

Original Story link: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-02-28/iwaju-disney-plus-kugali-pan-african-lagos-nigeria-animation-/103519420

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