African Superhero Sema Aims to Inspire Kids Worldwide

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Super Sema features all the tropes typical of a superhero story—a greedy villain, a futuristic setting, and a do-good warrior who saves the day.

But there are a few key differences: The hero is a 10-year-old girl from a village in Africa, and to defeat the robot villain and his minions, she taps into courage and empathy—not superhuman strength—as well as her understanding of science, technology, and the arts.

The series is the creation of Kukua Education Ltd., a startup in Nairobi that aims to build the first media franchise based on an African animated superhero.

On YouTube, the 20 episodes plus extras featuring dance instruction, science experiments, and craft-making have garnered 15 million views—“massive, for a new channel,” says Kukua’s founder and chief executive officer, Lucrezia Bisignani. The company expects to close a second round of venture capital financing in July and is working on Season 2, due to start in December.

Kukua, which means “to grow” in Swahili, says its combination of fun and learning can yield an online and offline franchise that appeals to children anywhere.

Riding a global wave of interest in Afro-futuristic stories triggered by Disney’s Black Panther, the all-female team of executives has big plans for Sema: toys, costumes, comic books, virtual- and augmented-reality learning experiences, and perhaps even a Semaland theme park.

“We want to be the Mickey Mouse of Africa, but with a strong learning component,” says Vanessa Ford, Kukua’s chief operating officer and executive producer.

Hits such as Black PantherCrazy Rich Asians, and Coco have shown Hollywood that stories featuring diverse characters set outside the U.S. or Europe are bankable, triggering a slew of African animated series. Mama K’s Team 4 by Triggerfish Animation Studios in Cape Town, about four teenage girls fighting evil in a futuristic Lusaka, is scheduled to premier next year on Netflix. 

Walt Disney Co. has at least three such shows in the works, including Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, a sci-fi fantasy to stream on Disney+ next year. And YouTube Originals, which is backing Super Sema, will release Supa Strikas: Rookie Season, a series about a fictional pan-African soccer team.

“The Africa market is so vibrant right now,” says Nadine Zylstra, who oversees family programming at YouTube Originals. “Hearing these pitches from young African talent, there is definitely the feeling that this is the generation that can use these digital tools to share their voice with the world.” Source: Bloomberg