How Edu-tainment Startup Kukua Normalizes African Superheroes In Cartoons With 'Super Sema'
Photo Credit: AfroTech

How Edu-tainment Startup Kukua Normalizes African Superheroes In Cartoons With 'Super Sema'

When it was announced that Oscar-winning actress Lupita N’yongo would be teaming up with edu-tainment startup Kukua to serve as an executive producer of a new animated series, it didn’t take long for the news wires to light up with excitement.

But according to the company’s chief operating officer, Vanessa Ford, the partnership with the “Black Panther” starlet was a natural one.

“Lupita, as you may know — she’s a big vision type of a person,” she told AfroTech. “And initially, when we pitched her the idea, we thought she’d only be interested in getting involved on a surface level. But, you know, she was so in love with the idea of “Super Sema” that she asked to become a shareholder of the company, and it grew from there.”

Billed as “Africa’s first kid superhero series,” “Super Sema” follows the adventures of the titular Sema and her brother, MB, who use their “tech-novating” powers to save their town of Dunia from a heartless robot uber-villain. From their “Secret Lab,” they code world-changing apps, create energy from waste, engineer solutions for their community, develop virtual worlds, and might even launch a space rocket! And they do this all to be home in time to print 3D pizzas!

Courtesy of Kukua

While there is certainly no shortage of American references in the series — the 3D pizzas, for example — Kukua chief product officer Clara Njeru says that the series is distinctly Kenyan. And Njeru says that this is not only by design but it’s necessary to further link the idea of African — and Black — superheroes in American children’s minds.

“The stories told in ‘Super Sema’ are based in Kenya, yes,” said Njeru, who is Kenyan herself. “So, there will be some values in there that are Kenyan in nature. But, truly, it’s not just about being ‘Kenyan’ per se — these values that we teach, such as family, education, and cooperation, are important all over the world, no matter your background.”

“Super Sema” is currently airing on YouTube TV, and the feedback is certainly positive. Fans can’t get enough of Sema and MB’s adventures, and critics are saying that the series has a distinctive “Kim Possible” vibe, which makes it suitable for children of all ages.

Ford, however, is unsurprised at the positive reception.

“As a mother myself, I love seeing ‘Super Sema’ take off for both parents and their children,” she said. “The focus groups we’ve studied show that parents want to sit down with their children to watch the series. And what’s more, we’ve found that sometimes, these families that are watching the series with the children aren’t what Americans, per se, call the traditional nuclear family. So when kids see Sema and MB interacting with extended family, it validates their experience, makes it real — and makes them believe that they, too, can be creators like her.”

While Kukua has ambitious plans to include a “Super Sema” product line and other consumer products in the near future, Njeru teases that there will be more cartoon series coming from the company soon.

“We’ve already picked up the next series,” she said. “I can’t share details on what it entails, but I promise, you will see it go live in the next few months, and you’ll love it just as much as you love ‘Super Sema.’”

Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.