Disney’s latest animated series, Iwájú, is one writer-director’s love letter to his home country. 

The show follows the adventures of Tola, an eager little girl on a mission to uncover the part of Nigeria that her father once called home, but when her curiosity puts her in a dangerous situation, it isn’t long before she realizes the consequences of her actions.

“The inspiration for the story was Lagos, Nigeria, the city where I was born and in many ways, the place that is still home for me,” Olufikayo “Ziki” Adeola, director and writer of Iwájú, told Blavity’s Shadow and Act in a recent interview.

“As a storyteller, I always knew I wanted to tell a story that effectively served as a love letter to my home, but I also felt that there were many aspects of Lagos that would be interesting if we infused sci-fi and futuristic elements because, for example, Lagos, the geography actually supports the societal divide,” he continued. “So there is a real island where the wealthy Lagotians live and there is a mainland where the middle class and those less fortunate live. I always found it fascinating because as someone who is a voracious reader of sci-fi and fantasy stories, this is literally the kind of thing an author would invent if they were trying to build some kind of dystopia.”

As a writer himself, Adeola took all of the authentic elements of life in Lagos and “dialed them to as high of a degree as possible.”


For production designer Hamid Ibrahim, the technology infused throughout the story were key in bringing the story to life.

“There is a part, which I think is more critically one of my favorite ones, in the final episode where we have the tech of the good guys and the bad guys and they literally come to a clash,” he said. “It’s one of those moments, visually, that hits in every single market. Hits in the story market, hits in the action market, hits in terms of the visual market — and it’s a gorgeous one.”

Iwájú is breaking barriers within the world of animation by being the result of a ‘first-of-its-kind collaboration‘ between Disney Animation and Pan-African entertainment company Kugali.

The show’s cultural consultant, Tolu Olowofoyeku, however, said make no mistake — Nigerians have seen themselves reflected on the screen for years. This series, he said, is an extension of the work that’s already been done and a catalyst for others to create more animated series around Nigerian culture.

“Nollywood is the second highest-producing film industry in the world,” Olowofoyeku explained. “So, I think Nigerians don’t have a lack of seeing themselves on TV, and growing up in Nigeria, it never once occurred to me that I don’t see myself, or ‘I want to see myself’ never occurred to me.”

He continued, “That being said, there is no animation from Nigeria that has reached a global audience yet. We have a few small ones that just stay in a small circle, but I think this is the first time a story from Nigeria is going to go through the medium of animation and hit a global audience, so I think that’s interesting. And I’m happy, I’m very happy actually, that I get to be part of the team that does this for the first time, even though I know many more will come after.”

What’s more, he said working alongside Disney to reach the masses through their story was a seamless process, and he noted how the company was extremely cognizant of infusing authentic Nigerian culture into the project in every way possible.

“It was really easy to do because Disney Animation wanted to help us tell the story we wanted to tell,” Olowofoyeku said. “They were really in on asking questions and just understanding what the culture is and every single detail. If there is literally a teacup in the show and the teacup is red, they were going to ask, ‘Hey, does red mean anything to Nigerians? Is there any significance of a red teacup?’ Because they wanted to make sure we got everything right. It made the walk easy. All we had to do, like Ziki, was write a Nigerian story and set it in Lagos, and Disney didn’t try to change it from what would have happened if the story happened in real life. There’s an actual island and an actual mainland. People sell things to moving vehicles in traffic, all those things are real, they happen. So just taking that and making sure that the voice actors said things the way we actually say it in Nigeria, making sure that the arts didn’t feel different from what things look like in Nigeria, I think it all was organic, or natural.”

 Iwájú is now available for streaming on Disney+.