Netflix’s first children’s animation from Africa is an all-girl spy team written by women

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Lynsey Chutel

Soon audiences around the world will be able to stream the story of an all-girl team of African spies, who also happen to be four normal Zambian teens by day. This week, Netflix announced that it has picked up Mama K’s Team 4, an animated series as its latest African content.

Netflix is teaming up with South Africa’s Triggerfish, who have emerged as devoted tellers of African children’s stories through animation and London-based children’s entertainment specialists Cake. The Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios have consistently produced children’s animation, despite a lack of funding and imagination. With Netflix in Africa, the story of African animation has become more hopeful.

Mama K’s Team 4 was born out of Triggerfish Animation Studios’ Story Lab initiative in 2015, which invited animation writers from around the continent to submit their stories of uniquely African animation. Malenga Mulendema was one of eight winners of that initiative, and will now see her competition submission developed and turned into an animated series.

“Cartoons were an exciting part of my childhood in Zambia,” Mulendema tells Quartz Africa. “But regardless of whether it was the scheduled one hour of cartoons on the local broadcaster or multiple hours, later, on international channels, representational characters were very few and far between.”

As a child, Mulendema and her friends would recreate their own cartoons, writing their own story lines and acting them out to fill in the gap. So when it came to selecting a group of writers who would bring these fantasies to the streaming screen, Mulendema asked for a team of female writers to create the young women’s spy team.

“Now, like never before, it is so important to have strong female lead characters who are emotionally connected to their world and who can choose to change their world,” she said. “So to me, selecting an all-female writing team was a natural fit, because who better to create and connect to those characters than females themselves.” Triggerfish has now issued a call out to writers from across the continent to apply.

“Mama K’s Team 4 has the potential to give a whole new generation of African children the opportunity to see themselves on-screen in the powerful, aspirational characters they look up to,” said Netflix’s Melissa Cobb, vice president of original animation in a statement.

In Mama K’s Team 4, Mulendema wanted to introduce the world to “four strong African girls who save the day in their own fun and crazy way,” which at times may mean navigating downtown Lusaka’s traffic gridlock in a minibus taxi. Their outfits may be inspired by retro 90s R&B and hip-hop girl groups, but the superheroes find themselves in a futuristic version of the Zambian capital, Lusaka. The four characters and their world were created by Cape-Town based Cameroonian animator, Malcolm Wope. The titular Mama K is a retired secret agent who recruits four young women to save the world.

For Netflix, Mama K and her team could save their children’s programming from changes in the industry. Disney recently announced its own streaming service Disney Plus, which will include nearly a century’s worth of beloved cartoons. As has been the case with adult series, studios are becoming more protective of their content, as many of them develop their own online platforms. It is now up to Netflix to create its own catalogue of beloved characters. – Quartz Africa

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