Iwájú Is Disney’s New Sci-Fi Fantasy Set in Africa

Published on January 31, 2021

During Disney Investor Day, we learned of a number of exciting projects set to premiere over the next few years. One of those projects includes a brand new, animated series: Iwájú.

The show is being called a “first of its kind collaboration” between Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Pan-African entertainment company, Kugali Media.

The word “Iwájú,” in the Yoruba language roughly translates to “the future,” and according to Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the series takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, steeped in the world of science-fiction. She also said that the series will explore “deep themes of class, innocence and challenging the status quo.”

Lee explained that she first learned of Kugali Media after she saw a news piece about a group of storytellers and artists from Nigeria and Uganda. The piece in question came from the BBC, titled “Pan-African comic book hoping to kick Disney’s arse.” Once she watched the video, she became intrigued and said that their talents as storytellers blew them away at Disney.

“Their dream was to bring African stories, created by African artists to the world through comics and animation, highlighting the diversity of cultures, history, and voices across the continent,” she said. “I’m proud to announce a first of its kind collaboration, as Kugali and Disney Animation team up to bring their original long-form series to Disney+.”

In addition to the announcement, Disney released the first bit of concept art for the series, which gives an insight to the futuristic world we will come to see.

Photo via: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disney and The Future of Afro-Centric Content

While the Iwájú collaboration with Kugali Media marks a first for Disney, this isn’t the company’s first venture with an African entertainment company.

Last September, Disney announced that it would join forces with FilmOne Entertainment, a Nigerian production and distribution company, to market their new releases in parts of English-speaking Africa. This made FilmOne the sole distributors of Disney’s films in Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana.

Shola Thompson, a film consultant based in Nigeria called the deal “huge” because it means that Disney is paying attention; their presence could also provide more opportunities for collaborations in film as investors may look further into the African movie industry.

Disney took a dive into focusing on Afro-centric content with films like Queen of Katwe and world of Wakanda in Black Panther; they’re even working on a film focusing on an African princess, Sadé, which was revealed back in 2018. Hopefully with Iwájú, it will open up even more opportunities and possibilities for the company to further express African culture.

About Kugali Media

The founders of Kugali Media—Tolu Olowofoyeku, Ziki Nelson and Hamid Ibrahim—created the company in 2017.

According to their website, Kugali uses animation, art, virtual/augmented reality and deeply authentic storytelling to showcase African stories and bring them to the whole world. Additionally, they say their stories are ones that respect the history of Africa, embracing its present and imagining its future.

In the BBC video, Olowofoyeku explained that most of what people will find about Africa is being told by non-Africans; he said it was important to them to have Africans tell their own stories.

Though Ibrahim was the one to state that the company will “kick Disney’s arse” in Africa, he added that he hopes to get big enough to the point where their characters are recognized both in Africa and around the Globe.

Furthermore, Nelson feels that there is a “cultural revolution” happening, where people are hungry for content from other sources; he also believes that this is an opportunity for them to learn about African cultures by connecting with these characters, giving them the ability to empathize more with people around the world.

Iwájú will premiere on Disney+ in 2022.

Lexi Jones is an award-winning journalist and Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Las Vegas, she covers startup brands in entertainment, internet and LGBTQ+ startup news. She is also an editor of Grit Daily's "Top 100" entrepreneur lists.

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