South Africa’s First Woman-Led Animation Studio Sets For Its Debut Release

As Black women are relentlessly proffering solutions to problems that have nearly been ingrained into society, South Africa’s Thandiwe Mlauli, founder and CEO of Studio Yezi, a South African development and animation studio is on the quest of challenging Hollywood’s models of animation. 

According to their website, the name is inspired by the isiZulu word “inkanyezi” which means “Star.” Thus, the company aims to be a “symbol of hope and light [and] serve the world with our storytelling.”

She told IOL News that she feels the current landscape of the South African animation world does not accurately represent its audience. As a teenager, she fell in love with Japanese animation and “wanted something to connect her to [the characters].”

“Black people have been fans of fantasy, superhero, comic-book inspired stories,” she said. “And yet writers seem to forget us when they create.”

MIauli decided to create a whimsical fantasy adventure animation titled “SOLA” starring a brown-skinned, afro rocking, “sassy 14-year-old” who goes on a dangerous magical journey. While it is South Africa’s first independently produced afro-animation led by a woman, according to IOL, she says the riveting inspirational tale will be a production that audiences will be able to connect to.

“We have wild, funny, sassy characters who really go through a lot to master the magic that lives within them,” she said. “This is new, fresh and exciting, and I pray it awakens the same feelings in our audience.”

With this project, MIauli says she hopes to “help nurture and develop fresh local talent,” reports IOL News. 

The character, Sola, is played by Karabo Ntshweng, a radio host in South Africa, along with other characters such as podcaster, Mixo Mathebula, and musician, Rifumo Mdaka. 

In order to fulfill her dream to “#MakeSOLAHappen,” MIauli started a crowdfunding campaign to finish the animation. She says she chose this route rather than pitching to a bigger Hollywood company so that she can stay in control of the production. 

“For Hollywood to let you be a showrunner, you have to have money or experience. I had neither,” she said. “What I did and do have, is talent, discipline and heart for this story.”

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