Theme: Future Thinking

Next year you can expect Netflix’s first African animation series to pop up on your feed. Mama K’s Team 4 is set to delight every African woman who’s ever yearned for some sassy animated characters to relate to on screen. The 20-episode series, produced by Cape Town animation studio Triggerfish, takes place in Lusaka, Zambia, and features four teenage girls recruited by retired secret agent Mama K to save the world from destruction. The series is the brainchild of Zambian journalist Malenga Mulendema, who created the story to rectify the under-representation she saw on her TV screen as an African child. Mulendema would never have had this opportunity were it not for heeding Triggerfish’s call to enter its creative incubator programme. Five years ago, the animation studio launched the Triggerfish Story Lab and, with support from The Walt Disney Company and South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, set out to find and nurture new African talent so that it could connect young creatives with opportunities in the animation industry. The Story Lab received more than 1,400 entries through its continent-wide search for storytellers, and selected 35 of these people to attend workshops with a leading Hollywood script consultant and receive two weeks of mentorship from executives at Disney’s California headquarters. The 35 pitched their refined stories and eight were chosen to go through to development, Mama K’s Team 4 being one of them. Triggerfish is Africa’s largest and most awarded animation studio. It produced Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba, as well as Emmy Award-winning Zog, and an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, which earned it an Oscar nomination. “As a studio, we love to create African content, but it would be completely misrepresented if these stories weren’t being as authentic as possible,” says Triggerfish Producer Vanessa Ann Sinden, who was one of the leaders on the Story Lab initiative. “If you’re wanting to tell an authentic story, you need to go to the source and heart of where the story comes from and find the voices and minds behind those stories.” It’s for that reason that when Sinden and her team pitched Mama K’s Team 4 to Netflix, they insisted that it be written by black female African writers. “It was very important that the series felt, sounded and looked authentic.” When the Netflix deal was signed, Triggerfish launched the Writer’s Lab, putting out a call to black women writers from across Africa. Nearly 750 applications were received, but only two had ever written animation scripts before. “Writers for animation are few and far between worldwide, let alone in Africa,” says Sinden, who worked with her team in grooming eight of these writers to be employed in Mama K’s Team 4’s all-women script-writing team. They come from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Zambia, and are being led by a veteran TV series head writer from Los Angeles. The show’s visuals, in the meantime, have been developed by artists from Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa. The voice-over artists will also be of African origin, and all music will come from the continent too. “This really is a legacy project,” Sinden says of the way in which Triggerfish has shone a spotlight on the creativity that exists in Africa. “There are talented people on the continent. Let’s give them opportunities!” Netflix will launch Mama K’s Team 4 worldwide in 2021. Visit the Triggerfish Academy website to access 25 free video tutorials on how to create your first easy animation. 

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.