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Disney is venturing into a daring and fantastic future with their Iwájú review.
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Disney is venturing into a daring and fantastic future with their Iwájú review.

Afrofuturism emerged in the 1970s/80s as a way to express the African diaspora’s potential and present concerns. It used speculative technology, married to deeply rooted traditions, culture and aesthetics, to imagine a future founded in African ambition.

This idea can be found in the writings of Octavia Butler, the vibrant artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the music of Missy Elliott. However, its most well-known representation is in the Marvel film, Black Panther. Released in 2018, the highly successful movie starred the late Chadwick Boseman as the ruler of Wakanda, a technologically advanced imaginary African country. Wakanda is portrayed as a pan-African paradise, with holograms, flying vehicles, and citizens sporting coordinated jade-green lip plates and finely-tailored three-piece suits.

The Disney+ show Iwájú, named after the Yoruba word for “the future”, takes a unique approach to Afrofuturism. Set in a futuristic version of Lagos, the series showcases a blend of advanced technology and Nigerian culture. The main character, Tola (played by Simisola Gbadamosi), comes from a wealthy island community but struggles with a desire to connect with her father, a successful tech innovator. While well-meaning, her father is overwhelmed from shaping this new world. He holds the belief that technology creates opportunities, and has utilized AI and blockchain to create a crime-free utopia in Lagos.

Tola and Kole in Iwájú or Image view.

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However, the city still has imperfections as the opportunities have not reached every part of the area. Tola’s closest companion, Kole (played by Siji Soetan), is a natural technology genius, but him and his family face financial difficulties. To add to the complexity, the most corrupt residents of Lagos have adopted the advancements and are utilizing lavish hover cars and special sunglasses to target wealthy individuals and steal millions.

Tola’s father’s security firm has the potential to earn them a fortune since it possesses valuable data on the nation’s top officials, making it possible for a large-scale cyber theft. As a result, Tola must navigate growing up while also combating a gang of resourceful criminal geniuses.

It may seem like there is a lot of world-building and plot packed into six episodes of only 20 minutes each, and that’s because there is. While Iwájú is enjoyable, it can also be overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. Loyalties and connections constantly change, and understanding the various technologies would require meticulous note-taking.

To fully appreciate this miniseries, it is best to approach it with a limited perspective, focusing on the stunning, jewel-colored animation, lively Afrobeats music, and impressive Nigerian voice actors who even manage to make technical information about blockchain entertaining. This stands out amidst the current struggles of Disney’s Marvel properties to please both critics and financially, and the overdependence on sequels and spin-offs in the animated film industry. Disney+’s original content has displayed innovation and a global perspective, with Iwájú portraying life in Lagos, Black Cake showcasing a mid-century Caribbean setting, and Shōgun depicting medieval Japan, all with breathtaking visuals that rival television’s most beautiful landscapes.

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This depiction of Lagos is refreshing in its unique aspects of food, architecture, and intricately designed agbadas that sway in the breeze. The creators of this project, the entertainment company Kugali, have both African and British backgrounds, but the story stays within the borders of Lagos. It is noteworthy of Disney+ to assume that audiences outside of Nigeria will be interested in our young Yoruba main character, especially since the streaming service is not available in Nigeria. However, even if you are not familiar with Nigerian cuisine, there are relatable themes such as self-discovery, family, and independence, in addition to a lovable lizard companion.

Viewers who are unfamiliar with the concept of blockchain (please explain it to me), or who are not well-versed in the workings of cyber security and surveillance, may not fully understand the show. However, the show shines a light on aspects of Nigerian culture that are often overlooked on a global scale. It presents an optimistic view of the country’s future and celebrates the talents of its diaspora. There is immense potential in storytelling about Africa’s history, current state, and potential opportunities. While Iwájú offers light-hearted entertainment for all ages, it also serves as a stepping stone towards a bright and promising future.

Source: theguardian.com