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IWAJU: Disney’s Entry into Nigerian Cinema

By Patience Chat Moses
Excitement crackles in the air as a ground-breaking announcement echoed through the streets. Disney, the entertainment giant known for its iconic characters and magical storytelling, had forged an unprecedented alliance with Nigeria’s film industry. Together, they have created something truly extraordinary: the first-ever Nigerian animated feature film, “IWAJU.”
Iwájú is an animated feature miniseries produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Pan-African British-based entertainment company Kugali Media for the streaming service Disney. It was written by Olufikayo Adeola and Halima Hudson and directed by Adeola.
The title of the series, iwájú, roughly translates to “the future” in the Yoruba language.
“Iwájú” is an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. The exciting coming-of-age story follows Tola, a young girl from a wealthy island, and her best friend, Kole, a self-taught tech expert, as they discover the secrets and dangers hidden in their different worlds.
The series also explores “deep themes of class, innocence, and challenging the status quo”.
Kugali filmmakers—including Director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Production Designer, Hamid Ibrahim and Cultural Consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku—take viewers on a unique journey into the world of “Iwájú,” bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos.
The series is produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, with a screenplay by Adeola and Halima Hudson. “Iwájú” features the voices of Simisola Gbadamosi, Dayo Okeniyi, Femi Branch, Siji Soetan and Weruche Opia.
The news about the new animation sent shockwaves across the country, sparking fervent discussions in every household and stirring the imagination of aspiring filmmakers and animators alike. For decades, Nigeria had been celebrated for its vibrant Nollywood film industry, but the prospect of collaborating with Disney heralded a new chapter in the nation’s cinematic journey.
From the bustling streets of Lagos to the lush savannahs of the countryside, “Iwájú ” transports audiences on a magical journey unlike any they had experienced before.
The story draws inspiration from the city of Lagos, Nigeria, due to Lagos being “the culture capital of Nigeria”, and due to both its mainland and island areas having a unique, distinct feel that the creative team felt provided an interesting base for the story.
“Iwájú” is more than just a film; it is a celebration of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and a testament to the power of collaboration across continents.
Iwájú premiered on Disney+ on February 28, 2024, with the release of six episodes.
The series includes an original score composed by Ré Olunuga.
Originally planning a series of sorts, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Kugali Media were developing the long-form series for Disney+ by December 2020. Cinesite was announced to co-produce the series in September 2021, with pre-production already underway at Cinesite Montreal.
As the project gained momentum, a team of talented Nigerian artists, writers, and animators all assembled, each eager to lend their unique perspective and creative flair to the endeavour. Under the guidance of Disney’s seasoned veterans, they embarked on a journey of collaboration and innovation, blending traditional Nigerian storytelling with cutting-edge animation techniques.
But the road to completion was not without its challenges. As deadlines loomed and creative differences surfaced, the team faced moments of doubt and uncertainty. Yet, fuelled by their shared passion and determination, they persevered, overcoming obstacles and pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible.
With Disney’s entry into Nigerian cinema, a new era of storytelling had begun; one that celebrated the past, embraced the present, and inspired generations yet to come. It carries a shared sense of pride and possibility for the future of Nigerian cinema.