Tag Archives: Roye Okupe

HBO Max, Cartoon Network adapt Iyanu

Iyanu: Child of Wonder

HBO Max and Cartoon Network have commissioned a 2D animated adaptation of graphic novel series Iyanu: Child of Wonder, created by Nigerian filmmaker Roye Okupe.

The African teen superhero story is published by Dark Horse Comics and YouNeek Studios and follows a teenage heroine who must uncover the mystery behind her newfound powers to save her people from an ancient curse threatening to destroy humanity.

The series is set in the magical kingdom of Yorubaland and is heavily influenced by the history of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.

The animated adaptation is being produced by Lion Forge Animation, the US company behind Oscar-winning short film Hair Love, which is the basis of a spin-off series, Young Love, for HBO Max. Lion Forge, led by founder David Steward II, is financing and overseeing production.

Okupe is executive producer, writer and director of multiple episodes, with Brandon Easton (Transformers: War for Cybertron) leading the writers’ room. Lion Forge’s head of production Saxton Moore (Rise Up, Sing Out) is supervising director.

Other executive producers on the project are: Steward II and Matt Heath for Lion Forge Animation; Erica Dupuis for Impact X Capital; Ryan Haidarian for Forefront Media Group; and Doug Schwalbe and Carl Reed.

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Youneek animates African mythology

Youneek’s comic adaptations start with Iyanu: Child of Wonder

Nigerian prodco Youneek Studios has signed a 10-book deal with US publisher Dark Horse Comics and is developing an animated series with heroes based on African mythology.

The studio’s parent company, Youneek, was founded by Roye Okupe, who also created the graphic novels the series will be based on. The first instalment, Iyanu: Child of Wonder,  features a young black female lead and draws on Nigerian history.

Youneek has obtained venture funding from Impact X Capital. Erica Motley, creative partner at the VC firm, is onboard the series. Doug Schwalbe, formerly senior VP of coproductions at DreamWorks, is also attached as executive producer and will oversee distribution.

Johannesburg-based Forefront Media Group and Cape Town’s Triggerfish Animation will work with Youneek, Impact X Capital and Schwalbe on the project.

Okupe said: “Our mission has always been to empower African creatives and storytelling. We’ve done it successfully in the comic book industry and with Impact X Capital we’re excited at the opportunity to do it in the animation space.”

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YouNeek perspective

Roye Okupe, writer, director and founder of Nigeria’s YouNeek Studios, offers his thoughts on the state of TV drama, plus the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Roye Okupe

How and why is global demand for African drama changing?
Because the world is getting tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Africa just happens to be rich in culture and lore – it’s the perfect storm. And we are here to fully satisfy demand for more content inspired by African history and culture. This is why I started YouNeek Studios five years ago.

What are the biggest challenges the African drama industry faces?
Capital. Right now trying to raise money is an uphill battle. We don’t have the luxury of showing data from box office success like Hollywood does. Investors still see Africa as high-risk, though Black Panther has begun to change that narrative.

How is the SVoD boom affecting African drama, both creatively and commercially?
It has become a lifeline. SVoD platforms are more willing to take risks than traditional investors. Because of that, we’re seeing more platforms like Netflix taking chances on not just African-inspired content but content created by Africans.

YouNeek Studios’ animated short Malika – Warrior Queen

What are the biggest challenges that YouNeek Studios faces?
Our latest animated short, Malika – Warrior Queen, generated over 300,000 views on YouTube in just one month. However, we have issues raising the funds to do more episodes. Hopefully, that will change soon as we have several producers, investors and platforms reaching out to us. The focus now is seeing how we can take the success of the short and segue that into a full series or feature film.

How would you describe the current state of the television drama industry?
This is the best time to be alive as a content producer. With VoD, theatrical, social media, YouTube and more, the ways to pitch your content are almost unlimited. Unfortunately, this also makes it extremely competitive as many other producers are able to join the fray. But that’s a good thing because it will bring about more diverse content, which is something the industry has always needed.

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Nollywood star Etomi voices Malika

Adesuwa Etomi and her character Malika

Nollywood actress Adesuwa Etomi is voicing the lead role in new Nigerian animated series Malika: Warrior Queen.

Written by Roye Okupe, founder of YouNeek Studios, and produced by Niyi Akinmolayan of Anthill Studios, the series is an adaptation of the graphic novel by Okupe which was published in 2016.

It is the story of a strong black African queen fighting for her kingdom, which is under threat of invasion by foreign cultures. The story is inspired by the 12th century Oyo empire although the characters are fictional.

According to Okupe: “You basically get to see how an African queen lived her life back then.

“I have to give credit again to Niyi, who’s also the director of the highest-grossing movie in Lagos,  The Wedding Party 2. We discussed about who we would like to bring to this and Adesua was the first person I had on my mind to voice it. Not only is she a huge star, she’s also super-talented. After both of us went through the proper channels to present the idea to her, she basically said it would be a dream for her to do it.”

Other Nollywood actors taking speaking roles include Femi Branch (Chief Dogbari), Deyemi Okanlowon (the Windmaker and King Bass), Blossom Chukwujekwu (Abdul) and Sambassa Nzeribe (General Ras).

Malika: Warrior Queen is based on the graphic novel by Roye Okupe

The series, which will be produced in Nigeria, consists of episodes featuring three scenes with a total runtime of 15 minutes.

Etomi has starred in movies including The Wedding Party, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, The Arbitration and Couple of Days and she won the Best Actress prize at the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards for her role in 2015 film Falling.

“I hope that YouNeek Studios and all the other studios in Nigeria and Africa as a whole can start to bridge this gap between acquisition and trying to tell our stories through Nollywood as much as we’re doing it through Hollywood,” Okupe said.

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