Lagos Gets Sci-Fi Treatment In New Disney+ Series

Actress Simisola Gbadamosi arrives for the Iwaju World Premiere at the Filmhouse Cinema in Lagos Nigeria on February 27, 2024. (Photo by BENSON IBEABUCHI / AFP)

A new animated Disney series set in a futuristic Lagos has captivated its first viewers with a sci-fi take on life in the Nigerian metropolis.

From Lagosian slang to lagoon markets and traffic congestion, the six-part Disney+ series “Iwaju” captures ordinary urban nuances and transports them to a future filled with high-tech gadgets, where some of the city’s current problems continue.

It is Disney’s first partnership with an outside studio and part of a push to showcase more African animations, which have long been overlooked by major Western entertainment corporations.

Nigerian actress Bisola Aiyeola a voice actor in the Iwaju series, poses at the Iwaju World Premiere at the Filmhouse Cinema in Lagos Nigeria on February 27, 2024. (Photo by BENSON IBEABUCHI / AFP)


AFP attended a preview with the series’ creators at the IMAX Lekki in Lagos, ahead of its Wednesday release date.

“Iwaju,” which means ‘future’ in Yoruba, was created by Kugali, a pan-African entertainment firm launched in 2017 by Nigerians Olufikayo ‘Ziki’ Adeola and Tolu Olowofoyeku, as well as Ugandan Hamid Ibrahim.

The screening on Tuesday night, attended by Nollywood stars and Nigeria’s culture minister, featured three well-dressed young men making a big arrival on the red carpet.

British Nigerian actor Obiesie Madduegbuna aka Lakey in the Iwaju series, poses at the Iwaju World Premiere at the Filmhouse Cinema in Lagos Nigeria on February 27, 2024. (Photo by BENSON IBEABUCHI / AFP)

Head set designer Ibrahim said the series had left viewers “mind-blown.”

The 20-minute episodes are packed with recognisable features of the city, from its island geography right down to street vendors selling Lagosian cuisine.

“Futuristic elements are mixed with Lagos’ identity,” Ibrahim said. “It was important to us that Lagosians recognise their city and that others discover its specificities.”

Kidnapping and curiosity

The series follows Tola, a 10-year-old from a rich Lagos household, and her best friend Kole, a 13-year-old tech genius and domestic servant who lives in the city’s lowest neighbourhood.

Bode, a tech villain who oversees a criminal kidnapping ring, challenges their friendship.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, and the “Iwaju” team was inspired by a true tale of Adeola’s acquaintance, who fled an attempted kidnapping by jumping over a bridge into the Lagos lagoon.

Adeola stated that Disney had assisted in addressing the issue so that “children can view it without being traumatised.”

“We are talking about kidnapping, but ‘Iwaju’ has several other interesting themes such as family love, curiosity, inequality, questioning the status quo,” he said. “It’s a film that’s fun to watch”.

The series delighted viewers at the preview.

“The first thing I noticed was how relatable it was with the accents and everything… they had actual Lagos slang and it was really funny,” said 25-year-old influencer Ella Gbinije.

Disney Studios says it has been seeking to include more stories about African characters for several years now.

“It’s a groundbreaking thing for our industry, Nollywood, for African filmmakers, for African animators,” said Femi Branch, the voice actor who plays Bode. “I feel very honoured.”

Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, stated she learned about Kugali from a 2019 BBC piece in which Ibrahim said the studio’s creations would “kick Disney’s ass in Africa”.

In a documentary that accompanied the series’ publication, she stated that she was convinced by Kugali’s bravery and work on African comics.

Streaming services are gaining popularity, with paid subscriptions anticipated to more than double to over 16 million in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2029, according to Digital TV Research.

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