“Iwájú” is a science fiction series about the Nigerian city of Lagos. It was important for the creators to portray an authentic Nigeria.

Cartoon characters: a man puts his arm on the shoulder of a boy, next to a girl

Tola, his father and his friend Kole Photo: Disney

Tola looks out the car window, spellbound. For the first time, an 11-year-old girl drives across the bridge that separates the richest from the poorest majority in the megacity of Lagos, Nigeria. Behind it is the island with artistic glass architecture, shaped like sculptures of gods, as if people lived in works of art. Ahead is the trip to the continent.

Tola wants to pick up her father at the airport there. Like a Jenga tower, high-rise buildings are made up of containers and different designs, stacked inside and on top of each other. She has just arrived at the other side and is already stuck in a traffic jam with her driver. Usually Lagos. “Lagos traffic doesn't care about people's plans,” says her driver, whom she calls Uncle G. But that's okay. Uncle G presses a button on the control panel. The car begins to float and fly above the traffic.

Could this be what the Lakes of the future will be like? In the new Disney series “Iwájú”, viewers are immersed in the world of Tola in a futuristic Lagos. The debut of the series is a real first. Stories that tell the life of African countries and are written and designed by local people are rare. Too often this happens at a distance through others.

Crossing the bridge to the “real Lakes”

In the comic genre it becomes even more difficult. The two Nigerians Olufikayo Adeola and Tolu Olowofoyeku, along with Hamid Ibrahim, who grew up in Uganda, wanted to change that. As children, Adeola and Olowofoyeku wondered: Where are the superheroes, for example from Nigeria, or the science fiction stories that incorporate the legends and fairy tales of their childhood?

They later founded the pan-African entertainment company Kugali Media and announced in a BBC report that they wanted to “kick Disney's butt” on the African continent. Shortly after, the media group got in touch. And the idea of ​​“Iwájú” arose. The science fiction series premiered at the end of February and has also been available in Germany since April 4. Disney had never worked with an outside production company before.

“Iwaju”. 6 episodes, Disney+

In six 20-minute episodes, “Iwájú” tells the story of Tola, who grows up in the wealthy area of ​​the city. She has a dream: to go to the mainland to see what she considers the “real Lagos”. There she wants to visit the lively markets, learn about the world of one of her few friends, Kole, and explore the place where her father, a self-made technological inventor, grew up. But her father is worried about his safety, because although technical progress has changed the city, it has not solved many of the problems that the country still has today.

The different narrative threads sometimes intertwine very quickly. The story addresses the problems of today's Nigeria, combines them with the spirit of city life and a lot of action scenes and technological innovations that you would expect from a science fiction series. And at the same time, the series is a universal story that people around the world can relate to. About the love of a father for his daughter, about the friendship and curiosity of a girl who becomes independent.

Definitely not Afrofuturism

The founders of Kugali wanted to express themselves in their own way: “I think if you tell a story that seems Nigerian, Ugandan or Kenyan, of course it will be different because the spirit of those places is different from the spirit of Britain or that country. from the United States,” says Adeola, co-founder and screenwriter of the series. This can also be seen in Japanese anime, as there are stylistic and narrative devices that are rooted in their culture, Adeola says. “The only thing that matters to me [im Erzählen] What you can really trust is that authenticity,” he concludes.

Despite the science fiction, the real city of Lagos remains clearly recognizable: for example, through culinary specialties such as Puff-Puff, the language or the traffic. All the small details should be visible, says Olowofoyeku. The Nigerian was a cultural advisor, the eyes and ears present to portray what is typically Lagos. In some places this led to a culture clash with Disney in the fight for authenticity and narrative development.

The creators emphasize that the series is a science fiction story and in no way Afrofuturism. “If you look at the history of Afrofuturism, we see that it comes from people of African descent who grew up in the United States or the United Kingdom and incorporated their experiences from the diaspora,” says Olowofoyeku, who still lives in Lagos. They would not have had these experiences. This also distinguishes his story from Wakanda, probably the most famous work of Afrofuturism. The Disney film was also criticized for fusing different cultures of the continent.

“Iwájú”, on the other hand, is about a single place. The word is Yoruba and roughly translates as “future,” derived from “ojo iwájú” (“the coming day”). They wanted a short and understandable name for the series and, like the series, they wanted to use language deeply rooted in Lagos.

The day ahead of us

Nigeria is one of the linguistically richest countries in the world. More than 500 languages ​​are spoken there. It was especially important to the creators that this be reflected in the series. The protagonists also use words from Yoruba, the language of the region. and Pidgin, a mixture of English with the most spoken languages ​​in the country. In English, all speakers come from the region. This is also partially preserved in German. The employees always call Tola's father “Oga”, meaning boss.

The only slight drawback is that Disney+ is not regularly available in Nigeria. The series will not be available on Disney Channel for certain subscribers in Nigeria until late April or early May. The Kugali Media team still has a lot to do. They want to create numerous games and comics and thus create a network for African artists. “Iwájú” is just the beginning for them.