The main character of the 1966 animated short “Bon Voyage Sim” is an African leader depicted as a toad. The film opens with Sim being invited to a neighboring country, a visit announced with all the pomp and circumstances befitting his status.
Director Moustapha Alassane, known as the father of African animation, often featured toads and other animals to create allegorical critiques of politics in his native Niger. His work was done in simple line sketches on monochrome backgrounds.
Now, contemporary African entertainers are looking to make their own mark. And the companies that court them also hope to cash in on that ambition.
The ongoing writers’ strike in the United States that jeopardizes the creation of content for streaming services could, in fact, help international film and television productions fill the void and reach global audiences. Business Wire has described Africa’s animation industry as one that has “the potential to emerge as a growth engine for the continent.”
In April, the animated series “Jay Jay: The Chosen One” debuted in Africa on streaming service Showmax, a partnership between Comcast and South Africa-based Multichoice TV. The series reimagines Nigerian soccer star Jay Jay Okocha as a pre-teen superhero fighting animal poachers.
Showmax has pledged to develop more homegrown cartoons and animated content in a bid to compete with the growing presence of Amazon and Disney in Africa. Company leaders have learned that locally produced shows do well in countries like Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. Showmax is also available for broadcast in European countries with large African Diaspora communities, such as Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Also in April, Netflix reported that a six-year investment of nearly $2 million in African production projects generated millions in profit and created more than 12,000 jobs for the company.
African animation expands
Part of the new strategy includes animation.
The AfroAnimation Summit was created as a networking and recruiting event to connect animators from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.
It started online in 2021 and went hybrid this year. Co-founder Rio Cyrus beamed at the event venue at the Burbank, California Marriott as she reflected on her progress.
“When we look at our little Afro animation, it looks like a little miniature African Comic-Con. And we are very proud of that.”
According to Cyrus, 2023 was the first year that almost every major studio was a sponsor.
“When we look at our little Afro animation, it looks like a little miniature African Comic-Con,” he said. “And we are very proud of that.”
The Walt Disney Company was one of the studios present. He previewed “Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire”, an anthology of short films co-produced with South Africa-based Triggerfish Studios, showcasing the work of 10 different African animation teams.
South African writer-director Tshepo Moche contributed to the anthology with the supernatural coming-of-age adventure quest, “First Totem Issues.” Moche said that making the “Kizazi Moto” short film opened up new opportunities for her and her team.
Freelance character designer Gonen Yilpet attended the summit looking for similar opportunities for his career. Following Kizazi Moto’s introduction, Yilpet explained that animation could do a better job of credibly conveying the magical and supernatural aspects that are a mainstay of Nollywood, the nickname for the film industry in Nigeria, where he grew up.
Yilpet, like many other AfroAnimation attendees, said animation is a great format for African storytelling themes like ancestral communications, spirituality and the supernatural.
South Africa is strongly represented in the “Kizazi Moto” series. Like many anthologies of African creative work, several teams also feature content creators from Kenya and Nigeria.
Executive producer Tendayi Nyeke credits experience and established infrastructure as the reasons why these countries are often overrepresented in Africa’s global media landscape. But she is convinced that this will change and she says that her team intended to develop more technical capacity for future collaborations with creative partners in different countries.
However, Boukary Sawadogo, a professor of film studies at City University of New York and founder of the Harlem African Animation Festival, explained that Anglophone countries in Africa have an advantage when it comes to working with international distribution platforms. . He said that South Africa in particular has benefited from a longstanding relationship with Hollywood.
Sawadogo said African leaders should collectively invest in developing channels, creating training opportunities and building audiences on the continent and in the African diaspora.
In doing so, he said, it would address a common challenge for many African countries: fostering meaningful career opportunities and outlets for young people.
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