With two projects headed to Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Kenyan author, producer and director Kwame Nyong’o is hoping to make a splash on the global stage.
Kicking things off, he’ll unveil his 2D-animated short The Wonderful Story of Aisha, Ali and Flipflopi the Multicoloured Dhow Boat in the young audiences short films competition, marking the first time a short from Kenya has been selected in this category. The 3.5-minute film is about a group of kids who build a boat out of found plastics, and the story was inspired by the real-life The FlipFlopi Expedition, an organization that builds boats out of garbage (primarily flip flops).
Nyong’o is also executive producing a 52 x 11-minute comedy series called Twende, which will be showcased in the TV Films in Competition category at Annecy. Aimed at kids ages seven and up, this 2D-animated comedy was created in partnership with London’s Braintrust Productions and stars a pangolin—one of the slowest-moving animals in the African savannah—who operates a motorcycle taxi and navigates everyday challenges in a bustling city.
“I was always interested in African culture when I was young, but there was so little content about [the continent],” Nyong’o says. “Africa is an unexplored territory with so many stories, and now it feels like the industry is starting to embrace its content.”
Originally from the US, Nyong’o studied fine art at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College before turning his focus to animation. He worked all over the world after finishing school, but always kept an eye on Africa—and especially Kenya, where his mother is from.
Early in his career, Nyong’o worked as a project coordinator for UNESCO’s Africa Animated! Program, a networking and training initiative for local talent and broadcast execs. He was able to start building a network through this experience, which is how he landed his job as a computer art director for UK-based Tiger Aspect, where he oversaw scene layouts for Tinga Tinga Tales. This 52-ep animated series premiered on The Disney Channel and CBeebies in 2010, and features animals who share African folk tales.
In 2009, Nyong’o linked up with Apes in Space, where he continues to work today as a director. Most recently, he directed a 2D-animated short film—The Legend Lwanda Magere (2020), about a young warrior who gains superhuman powers—that made the rounds on the festival circuit.
Nyong’o’s primary focus at this year’s Annecy fest is to line up deals for his series and short, tapping into what he sees as a growing industry interest in the African animation scene.
Next up on his slate is Frog Boy, a 2D-animated adventure series for kids seven and up that he co-created with his brother Tavia. This 12 x 22-minuter is an adaptation of a same-name comic book originally penned by the brothers in 2019. The series will revolve around an orphan boy who gains superpowers after encountering a magic frog. A pitch deck and outlines for the first two seasons are completed, and Nyong’o is now on the hunt for co-producers, broadcasters and distributors.
He’s also working on another children’s book to help showcase African cuisine, which he says often gets overshadowed by Western foods.
Finally, Nyong’o says he wants to stretch his creative muscles and try out live action as a different way of reaching kids.
“There are so many traditional stories here [in Africa], stories that are being forgotten,” he says. “I want to re-enact a belief in African culture for kids, share the culture with the rest of the world, and show children we can have our own heroes.”