The pledge by Ugandan animator Hamid Ibrahim to the BBC that his team’s work is “going to kick Disney’s ass” certainly got the company’s attention.
Two years on and Disney – instead of battling Ibrahim and his colleagues – has announced a collaboration.
It is the first time that it will work with African storytellers to create an animated series set on the continent.
Iwájú will be a long-form series “steeped in science fiction” based in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria, Disney says.
Ibrahim, along with Nigerians Ziki Nelson and Tolu Olowofoyeku, created the company Kugali to tell “stories inspired by African culture using comic books, art and augmented reality”, 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 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.
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”.
Though at this stage the creators are not giving anything away about the plot, Disney says the series will explore “deep themes of class, innocence and challenging the status quo”.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer Jennifer Lee said it was the BBC’s short film about Kugali that caught her attention, entertainment website Deadline reports.
She said she was intrigued by Ibrahim’s “ass-kicking” comment.
“Here were three talented comic book artists. Their dream was to bring African stories created by African artist to the world, highlighting the diversity of cultures, histories and voices across the continent,” she is quoted as saying.
“Their talents as storytellers blew us away.”
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”.
Iwájú is due to be released on the Disney+ channel in 2022.