African animators have something to say, and it seems that thing is a complex relationship with their ancestors. It’s the strongest theme running through the new Disney+ 10-part sci-fi anthology Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire. The obvious motivation for Disney is the success of Black Panther and the subsequent Afro futuristic cultural celebration it sparked.
Yes, the limited series is stuffed with Wakanda-inspired visualisations of techno-laden future cities, but there is also plenty of diversity and creativity on show.
It’s just that the creativity sometimes feels like a low-rent copy of visual styles pioneered in the Spider-Verse movies. Not in all of them, but the overwhelming majority have little hand-drawn flourishes superimposed on computer generated animation.
There should be no surprises when you figure out that the Oscar-winning director of Miles Morales’ first cinematic outing, Peter Ramsey, is an executive producer on the project. He and fellow EPs, Triggerfish creative director Anthony Silverston and notable film creative Tendayi Neyeke, offered guidance and support to the anthology directors throughout the project since it was first greenlit in June 2021.
Same, same, but different
If you haven’t seen it already, I’d suggest you watch Kizazi Moto in the order that it is presented on Disney+ – you may have to search for it because the homepage takeover that Orion Ross, VP of Animation for Disney Europe, Middle East and Africa promised didn’t actually happen in South Africa.
Episode 1 is the excellent Herderboy by director Raymond Malinga. Malinga is a full-on nerd and in the press junket interview he shared about the entire universe he has mapped out and ready to roll if he is ever given more than the 10 minutes these shorts run to, to tell the story of the Chwezinite cattle herders.
And that’s the tragedy of the anthology. There are so many ideas and unique perspectives crammed into under 120 minutes of screen time that it can go over your head.
Like, if you don’t already know the lexicon of modern, Anime-inspired animation, you can easily get bored by Kizazi Moto.
I saw it when I watched it with my kids. My 12-year-old consumed the entire Studio Ghibli catalogue and is branching out into Hunter x Hunter but was completely lost in this African anthology.
A uniquely African problem
I believe a big part of the problem is that the stories being told – mostly about dealing with generational trauma or the tension between pleasing elders/ancestors and modern life – do not resonate with her.
Those themes are very specific to a generation that is only one degree away from actually working as a cattle herder and spending holidays in rural areas.
Millennials who grew up alongside technology and, at least in South Africa, a society emerging from Apartheid are still rightfully obsessed with telling our own stories. By contrast, you could simply open TikTok and search any African term and be flooded with hours of authentic content.
Kizazi Moto builds a table for the continent’s animators to lay a feast of interwoven cultural dishes, but the audience it serves it to would rather drink Starbucks and Bubble Tea, and maybe grab some sushi.
The monoculture of modern media was manufactured in the mindless algorithmic social feeds. Kids these days either follow the trend – whatever it may be – or face alienation and a level of bullying that the human brain is not equipped to deal with.
Make one wrong move on social media and the entire world berates you.
The kids will only embrace what they are told is cool, because they have access to EVERYTHING. Unlike when I had to seek out Nintendo games and Manga comics through an underground network of like-minded nerds.
Black excellence is hard
Do I celebrate Kizazi Moto as the magnificent achievement it is? YES. All caps.
Stardust by Egyptian Ahmed Teilab is a soulful telling of a girl deciding to choose her own destiny. Nigerian director Shofela Coker blew me away with the delicate details in his thoughtful retelling of a beloved folk story in Moremi.
I felt the pain of the sacrifice that the mother makes in Kenyan Ng’endo Mukli’s breathtaking Enkai tale of a parent torn between protecting the earth and spending time with her daughter.
You Give Me Heart director Lesego Vorster spoke the words of my soul in his scathing commentary on social media culture.
But, as a whole, Kizazi Moto feels like nothing more than a tool to get more signups in the largest potential growth market Disney has yet to conquer.
Glorious pandering to a wildly diverse audience. A morsel from Hollywood, designed to test the appetite for a recurring monthly payment that will slowly repay the debts the Magic Knigdom had to go into to win the streaming wars.
Orion Ross went to lengths to convince me otherwise, though. “Kizazi Moto doesn’t claim to tick the African box, there are still more stories to tell, and this is only the beginning.”
Maybe season two fixes the issues, but we can only get there if you stream season one now. And come tell me on Threads which one is your favourite.