Nigerian’s dream comes true with “Iyanu”


“A dream 15 years in the making” is how Roye Okupe described the announcement that his African superhero creation Iyanu would be turned into an animated series on HBO Max.

“That’s right, folks, YouNeek Studios IYANU has been greenlit and is set to become an ANIMATED SERIES ON HBO Max!” the US-educated Nigerian creator of African-inspired superhero & fantasy stories behind YouNeek – known for its EXO series of graphic novels – said when announcing the news.

“Iyanu: Child of Wonder” is a superhero tale set in the magical kingdom of Yorubaland, which draws from Nigerian culture, music and mythology. The series follows Iyanu, a teenage orphan who spends her days studying Yoruba history and ancient arts but yearns for a normal life,” is how producer Lionforge Animation describes the series.

Iyanu: Child of Wonder, a new animated series based on the graphic novel by Creator Roye Okupe [Credit: YouNeek Studios]

“One day, responding to danger, she unknowingly triggers her divine powers, the likes of which have not been seen since the Age of Wonders. With newly discovered superpowers, Iyanu joins forces with two other teenagers as they embark on a remarkable journey to discover the truth about the evil lurking in her homeland. Throughout her adventure, she’ll uncover the truth about her past, her parents, and her ultimate destiny to save the world,” the “Black-owned, full-service animation studio that sources acquire, develops, and produces authentic diverse content for global distribution” said.

With Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. one of the world’s biggest entertainment conglomerates, behind the adaption of the story into an animated series, it will give Iyanu the audience that Okupe said he had dreamed of.

“When I set out to create Iyanu for a global audience, I wanted to develop a world that combined everything I love about the fantasy genre with the majesty and awe that is ancient West Africa, “Okupe, a George Washington University graduate, told Comic

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Okupe said in a post that he would be executive producing as well as writing and directing several episodes, along with Brandon Easton (Head Writer).

“On top of that, working with Godwin Akpan, who illustrated the books, as our art director and collaborating with a thoughtful studio like Lion Forge Animation that prioritizes authenticity and diversity, is beyond belief.”

The deal is likely to excite one of the world’s biggest film industries and a heavyweight of film production in Africa – Nollywood – and encourage the adoption of more Africa-inspired graphic works for animation.

In a slew of big breaks for Nigerian animation creatives, Nigeria’s Hot Ticket Productions – known for Nigeria’s first feature-length 3D animated film “Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters” – is working with an undisclosed Hollywood film studio to produce a new film, Baby Trap.

Nairobi-based 3D animator Andrew Kaggia has also announced he will be releasing the trailer of his upcoming film, whose title is yet to be released.

Hot Ticket Productions CEO Blessing Amidu told bird all the final deals have been signed and the film will be released in early 2024, adding it will feature great African talent in the diaspora.

Although the details of the budget still remain confidential, Amidu hinted it will cost several million dollars.

Hot Ticket Productions will be hoping to replicate the success of its “Lady Buckitt” after that film led to a distribution deal with entertainment powerhouse Trace and now airs on Netflix and other platforms.

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Amidu is upbeat about the impact of African superheroes like Iyanu on content production for the African film market.

“Giant strides for the African continent I would say – and we’re just starting. I foresee a massive flow and a complete over-run of the industry by African content in the next few years,” she told bird.

As more films go global, Amidu expects this to unlock more financing for the African film industry – and for animation outfits like her own.

“Maybe a gradual process. The African continent is blessed with such great talent. There’s so much creativity yet untapped,” she said.

The international adoption of African films comes amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that has fuelled an increase in diversity in motion pictures, providing a boost to film industries in Africa and Asia.

“The authenticity of the Iyanu story is in line with our mission to create and deliver inclusive content to global audiences,” said Lion Forge founder David Stewart II.

Iyanu: Child of Wonder, a new animated series based on the graphic novel by Creator Roye Okupe

Warner Bros’ deal with YouNeek Studios will showcase African superhero stories – and West African history – to a global audience.

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. is an American multinational mass media and entertainment company, with its business units, including the flagship Warner Bros. film and television studios, Home Box Office, Inc. (which includes HBO, Cinemax and Magnolia Network), CNN and U.S. Networks.

Meanwhile, Africa’s ballooning youth population and a growing middle class could represent a profitable niche for streaming services, this could also be a big opportunity for African production industries.

Various analyses show that while Africa still gets a small share of film investment from global players, a growing number of digital movie watchers, topped with rising income will change the game.

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Netflix could boost investment into the continent over the coming years for local content production.

Netflix, Showmax, Disney, and Amazon have been studying consumer habits on the continent to appeal to its one billion-plus audience.

Netflix has over 2 million subscribers in Africa and wants to grow that number to 5 million by 2025. The number of people watching movies on the platform is said to be much higher, factoring in family sharing by its premium subscribers.

Netflix’s chief rival, MultiChoice’s Showmax, which has invested heavily in original African content, is beginning to reap the reward as African content now accounts for 40 per cent of its viewing.

MultiChoice is Africa’s largest pay-TV group, available in 50 African countries. Its streaming service launched in 2015 and is available in 46 African countries, as well as in Britain and France, where it targets the African diaspora.

In April this year, the streaming service said it will double its investment in creating movies and shows set in its biggest markets of Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

As film critic Wilfred Okiche puts it, the key thing is for African producers to ensure that as the demand ramps up, they put in place “working, durable structures” to best take advantage of the demand and build more, great, African, content.

/bird story agency

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