Disney’s Iwájú: The Power of Afrofuturism

In 2017, Tolu Olowofoyeku, Hamid Ibrahim, and Fikayo Adeola, three friends from Nigeria and Uganda, found Kugali Media. Their vision was to create a pan-African media company aimed at telling stories of the African continent by Africans. They created a sci-fi Afrofuturistic comic-book called “Iwájú,” which roughly translates to “the future” in the West African language of Yoruba. 3 years later, in December of 2020, Disney announced a partnership with the company; it will be adapting the comic book into a science fiction animated series for Disney+ coming out in 2022. The show is to be set in Lagos, Nigeria and will explore issues like “class, innocence, and challenging the status quo”–themes all too relevant today. 

Image result for iwaju

The company is not alone in tapping into the stories from all over the continent. Streaming giant Netflix has partnered with local talent on the continent to create original shows like Lionheart, Mama K’s Team 4, and Blood and Water. In June of last year, Netflix also announced a partnership with Mo Abudu, an esteemed Nigerian producer, to develop adaptations of novels by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Lola Shoneyin. 

These developments show an increased commitment to diversifying our screens. This news is historic for Disney: it’s the first time the company is partnering with an African company to authentically tell stories of the continent. This is important to note considering the massive power it has as a media company and how, historically, it has been plagued with a lack of diversity. Furthermore, although the company found immense success with movies set on the African continent like Black Panther and The Lion King, which each grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, it has lagged in terms of partnering with Africans to tell their stories. Iwájú could help change that.

Given Disney’s immense power and vast audience–Disney+ currently has over 80 million subscribers globally–Iwájú could have the power to create more visibility on the African continent, its stories and people past the success of Black Panther, which had an immense cultural impact and gave Black people all over the world to see themselves represented on screen. Doing that again with Iwájú is a step in the right direction. (It is important to note, however, that as of right now, ironically, Disney+ is not available in a large number of African countries. However, given the show is to premiere in about 2 years, that could change.) 

Moreover, Iwájú, would not only put pan-Africanism into the limelight, but Afrofuturism specifically–a genre that has immense power in shifting the narrative in how Black people see themselves, and how the rest of the world does too. We all know that fiction has power. However, historically, fiction, and science fiction specifically, has suffered from a lack of diversity. In 2014, of the 100 top-grossing sci-fi films only 8% featured a protagonist of color. According to Vox writer Alex Abad-Santos, “ Science fiction, many people believe, developed from pulp magazines in the 1930s. White men, many of whom were practicing scientists, were the authors for those magazines.” Ultimately, this led to the stories of the future centering White people. Imagining a future that effectively erases people of color is extremely detrimental, perhaps unintentionally implying that they do not deserve to be seen or have a place in the future. 

Afrofuturism changes that by centering Black people in the stories of tomorrow. According to the Oxford Dictionary, Afrofuturism is a movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture. Works by renowned creators like sci-fi writers Octavia E. Butler and Nnedi Okorafor, artist Angelbert Metoyer, photographer Renée Cox, and, of course, films like Marvel’s Black Panther all fall in this category.  Janelle Monae, who has been noted for her use of Afrofuturism in her videos and personal aesthetic, says this about Afrofuturism: “Afrofuturism is me, us… is Black people seeing ourselves in the future.” More than that, it is a future where Black people can see themselves thriving, as heroes and heroines; with it Black people can define their future as whatever they wish. In short, it is a tool for Black empowerment. 

Although the first was first coined in 1993, the ideals of the genre have existed long before that. Writer Taylor Crumpton writes that the first Afrofuturists were the enslaved Africans who “envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression.” He continues that “Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities.” This is Afrofuturism’s power: hope for Black people all over the world. It imagines a future where Black people thrive, where their rich histories and older traditions are tied into social and technological advancement. It is a model for a world of Black liberation that so many social movements today are fighting for, be it everything from Black Lives Matter to End Sars. This blueprint for a better future can be what inspires the leaders of today to become innovators and problem-solvers, fighting for radical change as they envision a better world full of possibilities. It can encourage Black people to continue to prosper in fields that they have historically been underrepresented in. The power of hope that Afrofuturism has is one that makes the genre so appealing and necessary to not just Black people, but many across the world. It’s one of the reasons the genre has broken into the today zeitgeist. 

Image result for taylor crumpton

Renowned Africanfuturist (Okorafor uses the term Africanfuturism to describe science fiction “directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view”) author Nnedi Okorafor said in a 2016 interview said that “literature provides Africa with a mirror to inspect itself.” While Afrofuturism is rooted in the African-American experience, it has drawn from African influences, and the movement is also gaining traction in Africa. Reminiscent of Okorofar’s words, Fikayo Adeola, one founder of Kugali said in an interview that “Afrofuturism was a tool that they could use to imagine a better future and the movement continued into the contemporary era. Kugali Media recognizes the power that Afrofuturism can have in inspiring new conversations on the diverse issues facing the African continent. Given Iwájú is set to explore “challenging the status quo,” it might become an avenue for young Africans and Black people all over the world to look past the problems of what currently is, and continue to boldly imagine the necessary ways to ensure the continued flourishing of Black people and Black culture, what is undeniably a cornerstone of the Afrofuturist genre. 


SOURCES:

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/what-is-afrofuturism

https://qz.com/africa/1945435/disney-ups-african-sci-fi-animation-with-nigerian-ugandan-studio/


Lucy Damachi

Lucy Damachi is a 16 year old high school junior in Nigeria. She has interests in climate justice, racial justice, indigenous rights, and sustainable development. Growing up in Nigeria has shaped many of these passions. She is a member of her school’s Student Council, served as vice president for her school’s Green Club, and is in love with community service. In her free time, she love to sing along to her favorite songs, read all sorts of literature, and explore the world of spoken word poetry. She is very excited to be working with the Zenerations team!

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