As a child, growing up in Africa in the 90s. I struggled to find African cartoon characters in the shows that were on TV at that time. Nowadays things are starting to change. Actually, things have been changing for a while. Back in the day, whenever a “black” cartoon character was added into a show. The character had ZERO depth and relevance. Even as a kid I could tell that it all felt like a shallow attempt at “diversity”.
How could I tell? My being a kid and all. Here is how:
With each passing year, I would fall in love with whatever dreadlocked or African-skinned cartoon character that “Hollywood” would throw at me. I would follow the actions and contributions that my “African representative” got given by the scriptwriters, and these “African” characters would have minimum plot-participation and little screen presence. When the episode ends, I would be left feeling extremely short-changed. Without any catch-phrases, or notable achievements from my fellow African-skinned comrade. Sometimes the African character(s) (usually one) would be part of the gang, but not really talking much. They would essentially just look good on posters and scenes. Other than that you could easily take them out of the show and still have a pretty solid plot. Back then, a lot of the animated African characters just felt like an afterthought.
Ok, rant over. I hope I articulated my childhood observations well.
Now for the good stuff
This post is actually a happy blog post! As I sit here in Zimbabwe writing this, I’m very excited and happy… in fact, I’m so excited about this post that my sorghum porridge went cold while I was compiling my research for this post. I kid you not. I now have to eat it from the pot cause it’s all stuck to the bottom. Who doesn’t like cold porridge ‘ey?
Then why am I happy? I am very happy that African filmmakers and African content creators are now starting to take charge of their own culture and identity within all creative industries. That is some really exciting stuff. Who doesn’t like authenticity?
With that said, I can not blame “Hollywood” for not knowing how to represent or give depth to African cartoon characters when I was growing up. “Hollywood” did what it could, with what it had. Nowadays African characters are being created and animated all over the “Motherland”. In order to truly measure the success of my fellow African animators in their mission to take charge! I decided to look, not only at “black” cartoon characters. Rather, I wanted to look at “black” (I prefer African) women and girl characters, in the locally made, motherland-owned productions.
Here are some of the female African cartoon characters I was able to find for you. These fictional lady figures were all created in Africa, by African people.
5. Fatimah (Created by Olabode Ajayi)
Now that’s what I’m talking about! Olabode Ajayi gets it, he did such a breathtaking job with capturing that streetwise sassy-ness that makes Fatimah amazing! As mentioned before, I am also an animator and I can tell you here and now that accents are something that gets highly discriminated against in the film industry. The old “gatekeepers” that control the marketing and distribution of any films, do not support the use of many rich accents. If it doesn’t sound American-ish or British-ish you might fail to get global distribution. Such controls and inhumane regulations tend to water down authentic-sounding African productions. Good job Fatimah on keeping it real guuurl. So… why can’t African animators just ignore regulations and do their own thing? Short answer: Funding! If anyone loans you millions of American dollars to make an animated African movie, they shall want the film to be screened all over the world. And American-ish accents are more toleratable by a wider audience range, wider than Fatimah’s native accent. The million-dollar funders would never risk losing money over an untested film accent. I hope Bob Dylan was right when he cried out, “The times are a-changing”
4. Jinx (Created by SPOOF animations)
This was also made in Africa, by Africans. More specifically, its a Nigerian production. I really envy the African kids of today. They can just hop onto YouTube and get such a strong set of African heroes that look like them.. and sound like them! Eat that, gatekeepers! Jinx is both powerful and meaningfully relevant to the plot of this production. She is not just a stage prop, who has been thrown in there so that the poster can look good. The video was intentionally made to start off in the middle by me, but please, be my guest. Feel free to go back to the beginning and watch the full episode.
3. Nankya (created by Sowl Studios)
Have you noticed something so far? All these female, African cartoon characters have such beautiful hair! It’s all different, and as a blogger behind “Visually African” I must say, such visual authenticity brings a tear to my eye. Unfortunately, kinky African hair gets aggressively discriminated against in mainstream media or even in the workplace. In case the language went over your head, Nankya is singing a Lugandan version of “Itsy bitsy spider”. Her kids-oriented YouTube channel has more African content waiting for you.
2. Tendo (Created by Creatures Animation)
I’m really torn about this next, award-winning entry: “A Kalabanda ate my homework”. I’m not a hundred percent sure if the lead character is a girl, but Tendo is voiced by a girl so… that might count. Though everybody knows that the animation industry is known for using women to do the voices of young male characters. On The Simpsons for example, Bart Simpson is voiced by Nancy Jean Cartwright. So Tendo could be a boy, young kids in school uniform could be a bit hard to tell sometimes. Unless the uniform is a full-on dress or something. The animators and voice actress did a brilliant job and I declare Tendo as our 4th entry on “Animated, female cartoon characters. That are made in Africa!”
1. Queen Malaika (Created by YouNeek)
A warrior Queen straight from the heart of Africa! Once again I was torn about including this project, the main reason being: it’s one of the most popular, authentically African projects currently on YouTube. I wanted this list to shine a light on other productions that are lesser-known but not everyone reading this blog might know about Malaika. I hope to continue seeing more positive and well made African cartoon characters. Male or female, I wanna see them all.
Honorable mention: Fino (by Adamu Waziri)
The reason why I went on to include Fino from Bino and Fino is because, having well-made female African characters in films is great! Bino and Fino has multiple female figures in their productions. Not just Fino, but her mother, a fairy godmother, her grandmother. I felt that you might enjoy seeing such an African production, plus it has subtitles for those of you who don’t speak the native tongue. This project is not only “visually African” but it will also accurately teach you a thing or two about Nigerian culture and heritage.
Thank you so much for reading this post and please, don’t forget to like and subscribe to the ventures listed above! This is not all of the African animated content out there, but I hope you managed to find a germ or two in my collection.