Meet the fab black 4: the first African animation series on Netflix

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DREAM COME TRUE Malenga Mulendema and her Mama K’s Team 4 tells the story of four teenage girls in Lusaka who are recruited by a retired secret agent committed to saving the world
DREAM COME TRUE Malenga Mulendema and her Mama K’s Team 4 tells the story of four teenage girls in Lusaka who are recruited by a retired secret agent committed to saving the world

Cartoons were an exciting part of Malenga Mulendema’s childhood in Lusaka in Zambia, but she did not see herself – a black girl – on the screen.

She tried to fill this gap by writing and acting out stories with her friends and family.

Today the writer is the creator of the first African animation series on Netflix and she’s not just putting one black African girl superhero out there, but a pack of four. They are the stars of the pending series Mama K’s Team 4.

Her animation journey began when she was offered the opportunity to pitch an animated TV series to Triggerfish Animation Studios’ Story Lab initiative in 2015.

Superheroes is still her favourite genre even in her adulthood because she grew up watching superheroes.

Mulendema feels she was “invited into” animation through Triggerfish. “I had never imagined working in animation, probably because I didn’t see much of myself and others like me in it and I didn’t know anyone working in animation.”

She believes animation is a space she can use to tell the stories she has always wanted to see – and she is looking forward to growing in it.

Mama K’s Team 4 tells the story of four teenage girls living in Lusaka, who are recruited by a retired secret agent who is still committed to saving the world.

The cartoon takes a lot of inspiration from retro-1990s R&B and hip-hop girl groups.

It will be streaming on Netflix as the first original African animated series. It is produced by the Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios and the leading London-based kids’ entertainment specialist, Cake.

Each of the four characters brings a different view, from their hair, body types, skin tones, tribe, economic background and interests.

Mulendema said this makes superhero work and dealing with everyday life issues interesting and lots of fun because everyone has something to bring to the table.

“This feels very true to real life,” she said. Developing characters has been a celebration of the diversity that surrounds her.

Mulendema is much inspired by the creativity of the young people in her country and her continent which makes them go beyond whatever limitations are in front of them. She believes the show is a celebration of that ingenuity.

“I think the show is less of an inspiration to them but more of a reminder of their resourcefulness and courage,” she said.

The process of creating an animated TV series is new to her and each step has had “so many lessons”. Although her biggest lesson, which has been such a relief, is picking a story that she is motivated about working on and eventually seeing it on her TV screen.

She has two other projects she has been working on and even though she won’t say much about them just yet, one of the most essential things in the process has been making sure they are stories about which she is extremely passionate.

According to award-winning producer Vanessa Ann Sinden, who is the producer of both live action and animated films, they want young viewers to see these smart, witty and confident girls and recognise that they too can excel in anything they want.

She said the Team 4 will inspire and celebrate what it is to be an African and how young people around the world have similar journeys, regardless of where they were born.

“We are excited to show off modern African music blended with themes that complement the uniqueness of the series and the girls’ different personalities,” Sinden said.

Asked what style of animation characterises the story, Sinden said they are still in development and haven’t started defining these characters’ animation style just yet.

“We are, however, hoping to see the team use 2D principles to highlight action and movement combined with a snappy style of animation, especially in the action scenes,” she said.

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