Homework? Check. Saving the world? Double Check. Mama K’s Super 4, Netflix’s first original animated show from Africa? Triple check!
Netflix just picked up Mama K’s Super 4, the streaming giant’s first original animated show from Africa and is hiring a team of female writers from the continent to work on it. More on this later.
The show, targeted at 6-11-year-olds and set in Lusaka, Zambia, follows the adventures of four teenage girls recruited by former secret agent Mama K to help save the world.
The show’s description reads, “fighting rich and powerful opponents with limited resources means Mama K’s Super 4 will have to be smart and resourceful in a show in which taking down the bad guys and turning in your homework is all in a day’s work.”
Mama K’s Super 4 is created by Zambian writer Malenga Mulendema who was one of the winners in the Story Lab initiative in 2015. The initiative was sponsored by Triggerfish in partnership with the Walt Disney Company and South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry. The series’ aesthetic is designed by Malcolm Carter Wope and according to Black Girl Nerds, “draws visual inspiration from retro-’90s R&B and hip-hop girl groups.”
This is fantastic news for African animation, Malenga Mulendema, Triggerfish’s Anthony Silverston and African creators the world over!
Implications of this Netflix Deal for African Animators & Creators
I want to illustrate that anyone from anywhere can be a superheroMalenga Mulendema
Wider Access and Distribution
YouTube, Vimeo and social media are great resources to discover new content but unless you know what you’re looking for, finding especially African animation is quite literally like finding a needle in a haystack.
Netflix changes that up quite a bit.
It is easier to navigate the streamer’s animation category which is complete with useful info to guide a viewer than going down the Vimeo and YouTube rabbit holes. While self-discovery is a thrill, carefully curated recommendations and suggestions help finetune the discovery process.
With a total of 148 million subscribers and counting, plus a powerful marketing machine, Netflix is offering creators a first-class pass to a virtual theatre of hungry audiences. This means Mama K’s Super 4 and subsequent animated content from Africa will be seen by a wider audience who might have otherwise never even heard of African animation.
Further Interest in African Content
Do Africans make games, comics or animation? Questions like this, while tired, are unsurprising. That’s because many people simply do not know. Netflix picking up Mama K’s Super 4 as its first original animated show from Africa will get animation heads curious about what the African animation scene looks like.
Depending on the success of the show when it airs, this will spur interest in other forms of content from Africa much like how Black Panther did.
Boost Creator Confidence
While other content providers tiptoe around entertainment that is safe and conformist, Netflix dances, barefoot, across a minefield of diverse, bizarre and deliciously unpredictable stories.
That’s great for African creators whose stories are often considered exotic and are left in a dilemma on whether to pander to the expectations of the West – resulting in cliche, unoriginal ideas – or to remain true to themselves while delivering something world class.
This in effect is another step in owning the African narrative. This sentiment is echoed by Malenga who says, “Mama K’s Team 4’ has the potential to give a whole new generation of African children the opportunity to see themselves on screen in the powerful, aspirational characters they look up to.”
Netflix greenlighting Mama K’s Super 4 is the streamer basically saying in Twitter parlance, shoot your shot and this might be all the confidence boost many creators need to put their stories out there.
Plus, increased interest in African animation (and other content) will be an additional motivation to local animators who continue to animate with sheer passion and tenacity to create even more. The more projects veteran African animators put out, the more inspired upcoming creators will be to also create.
Encourage More Story Labs and Pitching Initiatives
Mama K’s Super 4 came into the spotlight as a result of writer Malenga’s participation in Triggerfish’s Story Lab initiative. Imagine if there were more of such projects across the continent that gave the chance to creatives to pitch their ideas. Netflix picking up Mama K’s Super 4, could encourage investors, companies and individuals to organize similar initiatives and broaden the scope of already existing ones.
Just last year, Moshood Ridwan Shades emerged winner of Cartoon Network Africa’s Creative Lab competition with his pilot for Garbage Boy and Trash Can. The same year, Ayodele Elegba’s Area Daddy got the production greenlight from Lagardere Studios.
Moreover, Netflix just recently secured the rights to Zimbabwean Godwin Jabangwe’s animated musical Tunga through the talent hatchery project, Imagine Impact. Imagine Impact is a global content accelerator programme launched at the Cannes Festival as a way to discover new voices and empower content creators and narrative storytellers from around the world.
Consider the impact such initiatives have had and it’s easy to see how story labs and pitching initiatives are a great way to discover fresh talent and animated content.
Get Local TV to Sit Up
Is streaming the future of entertainment? Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thinks so. But that won’t be for several years to come. In the meantime, broadcast TV and streaming services will have to co-exist while they compete with each other. And there lies an opportunity for broadcast television providers in Africa to do for African content, particularly something as niche as African animation what they’ve been doing for telenovelas and other imported content for decades.
There’s a weird, pathetic and hard to dismantle misconception that anything created outside the shores of Africa is better. Netflix picking up Mama K’s Super 4 and Tunga is a gentle reminder to local TV stations that there’s gold in their backyards.
This will hopefully get them to sit up. With this, instead of waiting for validation, African content providers are more inclined to show locally made content and also spur interest locally.
Additionally, while streaming services are relatively cheap, not everyone can afford them in the long run. Local broadcast TV providers could capitalize on this to showcase local animation and other content (comics and video games) to that demographic.
Netflix is Looking for Black Female Writers for Mama K’s Super 4 Series
Netflix is collaborating with Triggerfish Animation studio and CAKE to launch a continent-wide search for local female writing talent. Netflix, together with Triggerfish are looking for experienced Black Female Writers on Mama K’s Super 4 animated TV series based in Zambia.
Applicants must have had their work produced for either TV or film and should be English-speaking African citizens or permanent residents who can identify with the source material centering on four teenagers from Zambia navigating the hurdles of daily school life while working together to save the world.
Prospective writers must submit a maximum one-page letter of motivation, a CV and a script sample in English of no more than a combined 10 pages, preferably demonstrating a passion for animation and an ability to write for children in the action-comedy genre.
DEADLINE for submissions is 17 MAY 2019. Apply at http://careers.triggerfish.com
Malenga Mulendema best wraps up what the implication of this Netflix deal is for African animation when she says, “in creating a superhero show set in Lusaka, I hope to introduce the world to four strong African girls who save the day in their own fun and crazy way. Most importantly, I want to illustrate that anyone from anywhere can be a superhero.”
Mama K’s Super 4 is produced by leading Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios and London-based kids’ entertainment specialist CAKE. Dates for the release of Mama K’s Super 4 have not yet been announced.
KaDi Yao Tay
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