On International Women’s Day, YouTube Originals debuted the first African-produced series Super Sema. The animated series follows ten-year-old Sema, a female superhero with powers fueled by STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), who resides in the neo-Africa-futuristic community of Dunia and must save her village from a robot villain. Inspired by the rich culture in Africa, Super Sema not only provides an excellent role model for children but also much-needed representation.
Africa is just currently NOT represented at all! There is still very, very little representation of our extraordinary continent, individual countries, people, traditions and stories. And while we are seeing a lot of growing excitement since Black Panther’s groundbreaking success in 2018 and a rise in the African-futuristic space there is still a lot of original work to be produced to serve one of the biggest audiences in the world at its most critical point in time and shift once and for all the limited perception about Africa too often portrayed on Western media.
Super Sema is inspired by the rich culture in Africa. We aimed at making an authentic world that children in Africa could relate to - the visuals, characters, stories and technology. Both good and bad are part of any culture, and we did not want to fall into any stereotypes of what those roles could look like or act like in an African context. We want to imagine what the future could look like for Africans and the diaspora.
It sounds like incorporating both the positive and negative was one of the most important aspects for the world of Super Sema. The villain of the series doesn’t always have the community’s best interests at heart, as with any antagonist, but he is able to learn from Sema as the overall vibe of the show reminds light and fun. Lucrezia Bisignani, Chief Executive Officer of Kukua, elaborated on this when describing the story and character dynamics of the series. Here’s what she said:
We wanted to create a world that laid out both the positive and devastating effects of technologies. On one hand, science and tech can play a really big and important role to solve some of the big problems in the world, like stopping the environmental crisis and much more. This scenario is represented by Super Sema, who couples her love for humanity with her STEM ingenuity. She’s only a ten-year-old girl because we represented her as our “hope” for a better future. On the other hand, we have our AI baddy Tobor, who has all the “artificial intelligence” in the world, but has no heart or emotional intelligence to canalize it for the good of everyone.
Super Sema is programming for kids to both enjoy and learn from. As we’ve now reached the generations who are growing up with no knowledge of life without technology, it’s pretty cool that Super Sema showcases a futuristic technological world that offers both the positives and negatives of said technology. Although the villain is a robot, the message is not that AI is bad, but rather that there are good and bad potential uses for it.
Beyond the educational side and giving viewers a look inside Africa, Super Sema is revolutionizing representation for young people of color. This was very important to the team at Kukua when creating Super Sema. In the words of Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Ford,
I know first hand that representation matters because as a Jamaican black woman, I’m a product of it, my children are a product of it. Imagine growing up in a world that doesn’t validate you, that doesn’t show you exist. I’ve gone to great lengths to teach my children that anything is possible, but it's different when they see it. Cartoon characters have the power to change how you see the world and most importantly, how you perceive yourself. And that is particularly important for so many children who live in communities where they never have exposure to people who are different, whether that is race, religion or culture. Cartoons may be the only way they understand places and people who aren’t like them, and their favourite characters become part of who they are...this is the power of storytelling. So we have a tremendous responsibility as creators to do the work to make sure we are telling more of these underrepresented stories and more of the truth.
That truly is the power of storytelling. You can join Sema on her world-changing adventures in Super Sema, now streaming on YouTube. Be forewarned, you’ll be singing the theme song for weeks to come. For more streaming options, check out these HBO shows for kids or these Nextfix shows that are just as great for parents.