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Dayo Okeniyi On Disney's 'Iwájú': Bringing Nigerian Authenticity, Afrofuturism To The Screen


Hollywood continues to move in the right direction with the telling of our stories as we begin to see more content that reflects the Black American experience. Now, Disney is taking a trip to the African continent with its latest series.

Walt Disney Animation Studios teams up with Pan-African entertainment company, Kugali, a visual storytelling brand founded by Olufikayo Adeola, Tolu Olowofoyeku, and Hamid Ibrahim, on its first Nigerian animated series, Iwájú.

The story takes place in Nigeria, but this isn't the western African country you know of. Iwájú means "the future" in Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria. So this futuristic city has flying cars and technology that hasn't been created yet.

Iwájú - Dayo Okeniyi

The 6-episode series follows Tola, a young girl from the wealthy island, and her best friend, Kole, a self-taught tech expert who lives on the mainland, as they discover the secrets and dangers hidden in their different worlds. Tola's father, Tunde, is voiced by Dayo Okeniyi, a Nigerian-American actor who is popularly known for his roles in The Hunger Games and Terminator Genisys.

"Unbelievable. I still can't believe that that's my voice coming out of that character," Okeniyi shared in The Quintessential Gentleman's exclusive interview. "I think a lot of us grew up with Disney influences...I just never imagined that I'd be able to see my neighborhood. We've watched Aladdin and we've seen the Middle East. We've watched Ratatouille. We've seen France. We've seen Egypt. We've seen Italy. We've seen all these other countries represented under that landscape, but to see Nigeria like that was amazing."

In Iwájú, Okeniyi plays an overprotective father. Although he understands the toughness of an African father, he was worried whether America would understand.

"When the story was unfolding, I was worried for a second, 'would a Western audience understand a very tough father like that?' Somebody who wants to protect his daughter and is overprotective to a fault," he admitted. But, ultimately, after telling Disney that this was an authentic representation of a Nigerian father, the true storyline was kept intact.

As a son to a Nigerian father, it was amazing to see how the beautiful country of Nigeria was represented. Those who may not know about Nigeria will get a glimpse of the culture, but for the Nigerians watching, there are so many references that will make you laugh. From the character speaking in English to Yoruba to Pidgin to the city's crazy traffic, the authenticity of Lagos is there.

"I think people are going to love, specifically Nigerians, because we're notorious for having terrible traffic. They're [characters] in this car and so they're fortunate enough to have a car that can fly. Every Nigerian has dreamt of that. Every single Nigerian has dreamt about flying over Nigerian traffic," Okeniyi shared about moments in the series that Nigerians can relate to.

Okeniyi also emphasized the importance of authentic representation, applauding Hollywood's newfound interest in showcasing diverse narratives.

"It's about time," he declared, echoing the sentiments of many of us longing to see our stories told on the global stage. From Bollywood to Nollywood, the world is now hip to the richness of our culture.

Check out our full interview below.

"Iwájú" is now streaming on Disney+.

Photo Credit: Adam Hendershott


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