I Saw Iwájú, and It Got Me Depressed: The Sad Reality of Nigeria Depicted In a Disney Animation.6 min read

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Disney finally made an animated series centred around Nigeria, for Nigerian Kids. But, sadly, like a clear mirror showing you just how pimply-faced you are, the series didn’t sit so well with me.

The series, Iwájú captured what lack of empathy resulted in: The Series started off by showing a gross disparity in wealth distribution – with a sharp contrast between the Island dwellers (the rich) and the Mainland dwellers (the poor). Then it went on to explore how both the rich and the poor villainised each other and the ripple effect the whole dynamic had on everyone.

On the one hand, we see Tunde, a man who came from the slums/ghetto (Ajegunle) rise to immense wealth by working so hard that he mostly neglected his friends and family – because “mediocrity gets you nowhere”. And on the other hand, we see Bode, a man who equally rose from the slums by also working hard. Except, this time, he didn’t mind hurting others – because “Life is not fair”. 

At the core of both “success stories” is a gross lack of humanity, and an obsession with wealth and power.

Interestingly, this series wasn’t explored from those perspectives – it didn’t idolise or try to justify one success story over the other. Rather, it focused on how abhorrent both were.

Iwájú Review: Did Disney Paint A Bad Picture of Nigeria?

I spoke with a friend about this last night, and her response was rather critical about Disney. She said:

“The animation did not sit well with me at all. This was an animation that Disney was sponsoring or at least producing. And this is the kind of thing they decided to portray about Nigeria? Despite the futuristic touch, it still made Nigeria look very bad – like a horrible place to live in. You know, children are the main audience here. So, imagine sending that kind of message to our kids. Yes, Nigeria is not the best country in the world, but it is not all that bad…They claimed they were trying to depict our culture, so why didn’t they try to capture something like the Igbo culture – say a young boy who learned a trade through apprenticeship and made a life for himself? Rather they just infused tech and all that futuristic stuff into the story – things that do not even resonate with our culture that much. Look at Lion King, Cinderella, and the likes, people can’t get enough of those – they keep remaking and rewatching them. But, look at Iwájú, everyone has forgotten about it…It simply portrayed the people of Nigeria (the giant of Africa) as evil. It would make our Kids hate Nigeria and want to even leave. If you’re a Nigerian Kid watching this you will be like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?! I don’t want to be a Nigerian O! Ah-ah! What is this one?’”.

And I can’t say she was wrong. There were a lot of horrible things that were captured in this series – the dizzying wealth disparity, unsettling insecurity, filth, betrayal, usury, crime, you name it. 

But, I don’t blame Disney either, because I know when you’re making a movie for kids, portraying things in black and white helps them understand better. That’s why we have Simba (the good guy) and Scar (the bad guy), Aladdin (the good guy) and Jafar (the bad guy), or even Snow White (the good lady) and the Wicked Queen (the bad lady). Though in reality, people are often a mixture of good and bad. Nevertheless, it is not entirely a lie that there are people who exhibit a lot more of those negative attitudes, neither is it a lie that there is a large gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria.

I’ve been to Lagos myself (the plot of the series). And, I can tell you that moving from Lagos mainland to the Islands (say Victoria Island) is like stepping from darkness to light. The first thing I noticed when I first visited Lagos mainland was the overwhelming crowd, erratic driving, and dust in the air. But, on the Island the environment was very neat and organised, Zebra crossings actually worked, and I could even see White kids running around freely.

Like I said, I think what struck me the most – to the point of getting depressed – was there was a lot of truth in the negative portrayal. 

One scene that left an impression on me was when the little girl (Tola) invited the little boy (Kole) to come and have dinner with her. The boy felt so insecure – so out of place that you could see it on his face and hear it in his voice. When the master of the house came home, you could see the sheer terror as he (Kole) leapt off the chair, and stood motionless, face down. He knew that indeed he was filth in the eyes of his master. And guess what? the master commanded him to “Go and clear the gutters”, despite his mother already waiting for him. Like, how bad can it get? It didn’t take Wale Soyinka (or Shakespeare) to convince the kid that “life isn’t fair” and that he had to do what he had to do to save the only person who saw him as a human deserving of love; or as a kid who had a future. 

Conclusion: I Don’t Want My Kids To Grow Up In The Nigeria Iwájú Portrayed

Iwájú was kind enough to give us an ending where the “bad guys” were defeated and the “good guys” learned an important lesson about “kindness and generosity”. In Nigeria, in reality, every day we see the opposite happening. From Politicians getting away with rigging elections to Yahoo boys making a killing scamming people. The only lesson the “good guys” get to learn is that you will be stuck in poverty and sickness if you don’t shut off your humanity and do something horrible.

But, I still have faith in Nigeria. I still believe that education and technology will increasingly open our eyes to more opportunities, and the good which indeed rests in the hearts of most Nigerians will overcome the darkness that so greatly looms over us.

I just hope this change happens soon because I really don’t want my kids to grow up in the Nigeria Iwájú portrayed.


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Dick David is a freelance SEO content writer and editor with over 7 years of experience in content writing, digital marketing, and sales. He is the founder of Pawns Digital Agency. Throughout his career, he has authored over 4 books, published hundreds of SEO articles attracting thousands of monthly visitors, ghostwritten numerous works, and edited hundreds of content pieces across various industries. Currently, he works with Robert Taylor Media and has also worked with Tobi Digitals and Branditechture Design Agency, among others.

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