Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico, raised in Kenya, and then attended college in the United States. So the 38-year-old Oscar winner understands the value and reach of globe-spanning entertainment, having grown up on a “very healthy diet” of film and television from America, England, Australia and Mexico.
“What I didn't grow up with was entertainment that reflected myself or my community, my continent,” Nyong’o tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview. “I was robbed of the experience of seeing myself in a show.”
“I wept tears of joy knowing that such a thing existed,” Nyong’o says of signing on to executive produce and lend her voice to the equal parts entertaining and educational Sema after being sent some early episodes. “It was a no-brainer because this was exactly the kind of thing I want to see in the world.”
The show, which releases in five- to six-minute episodes, follows the adventures of the eponymous young African girl who uses the powers of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) to “Technovate!” (her key catchphrase) and routinely save the day in the futuristic world of Dunia. Produced by Kenya’s Kukua “edutainment” startup, Sema is written by four-time BAFTA winner Claudia Lloyd and directed by Lynne Southerland, who became Disney’s first female African-American director when she made Mulan II
There series gets an undoubtable boost from the involvement of Nyong’o, the in-demand actress best known for films like 12 Years a Slave, Us and Black Panther, who voices the character of Mama Dunia.
“I want to be a part of getting out to the world an imaginative, positive, representation of an African world with a dark-skinned African grow the center of it whose super powers are science, technology, engineering, art, and math.” Nyong’o says. “It just hits so many, so many boxes for me. I want us to evangelize about it because it's the kind of show that I wished I had when I was a little girl, not only to see myself in it, but also a show encouraging kids to be curious and scientific. It's making science more accessible and fun. I think I would have had way more career options if I had this show when I was little.”
Nyong’o sees the globe-spanning import Super Sema as another positive development in the increasing visibility of underrepresented communities in entertainment. “I think things are opening up in exciting ways,” she says. “You have companies that are evaluating their cultural positions. You have people recognizing that both the world is larger than their particular cultural perspective, and therefore the market is demanding what it wants to consume.”
Of course, one of the biggest barrier-breaking releases of recent years was another Nyong’o project steeped in Afrofuturism, the 2018 mega-hit Black Panther, which became the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time.
Nyong’o will soon return to Wakanda (actually Atlanta) to begin production on Black Panther 2, which is once again being directed by Ryan Coogler. But it will be with the heaviest of hearts having lost Chadwick Boseman, who played Marvel’s African king, T’Challa, and died in August of colon cancer at 43.
The actress grew very close to Boseman over their shooting experience together, and penned a powerful tribute to him after his death.
“People will ask me, ‘Are you excited to go back?’ Excitement isn’t the word. I feel like I’m in a very pensive and meditative state when it comes to Black Panther 2. His passing is still extremely raw for me,” Nyong’o says before her voice starts to crack. “And I can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like to step on set and not have him there.
“But at the same time we have a leader in Ryan, who feels very much like we do, who feels the loss in a very, very real way as well. And his idea, the way which he has reshaped the second movie is so respectful of the loss we’ve all experienced as a cast and as a world. So it feels spiritually and emotionally correct to do this. And hopefully, what I do look forward to, is getting back together and honoring what he started with us and holding his light through it. Because he left us a lot of light that we’re still going to be bathing in. I know that for sure.”
Super Sema is now streaming on YouTube. Watch the trailer:
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