“Princess Halima” the new animated youth series 100% “Made in Africa”
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While it is true that in recent years big names of the cartoon industry such as Disney finally seem to be taking an interest in the problem of the lack of ethnic representation in their productions, there is still a long way to go. Young, non-white children with diverse ethnic backgrounds still only rarely have the opportunity to see characters who look like them on the screen, and though we are gradually seeing industry standards begin to change, depictions of non-white characters are still too often perceived through a Western prism that draws upon caricatures or contexts that do not always reflect the experiences of young children living on the African continent. Worse still, these depictions can often perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes.
It is precisely this challenge of diversity that the creators of Fyen Network wished to engage with by creating “The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima project” in 2007: a multicultural project “made in Africa” intended for young Africans but also for young children from a more general background of diversity. 13 years after the initial creation of the project, Fyen Network has just released a trailer for their first Gambian animated series “Princess Halima”, which proposes to discover the African continent in the company of the character Princess Halima and her friends.
YaAdam, one of the sisters who created Fyen Network, spoke to AMI about the origins of “The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima project” and the importance of diverse representation in youth media.
1. You created Fyen Network with your two sisters back in 2007, can you tell us about this family project? How did it all begin?
Fyen Network was created with my two sisters Anna and Jainaba, with financial support from our mother Lucy, our investor. We truly are lucky to have our parents supporting us on our social enterprise journey. Fyen Network known as Fyen, is a diverse, media and content creation company. We curate African inspired content for children between the ages of 2-12; telling stories about African history, culture, traditions and its people.
13 years ago, “The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima project” was inspired by the birth of the first baby (grandchild) in the family, Halima Bah. Halima is of Guinean, Gambian, Tanzanian descent. With such a rich combination of African culture and history, we thought the best way to educate Halima about her many homelands was to start the series of books through which she will get to not only discover her heritage but also learn about the African continent as a whole.
2. Would you say that it is your own personal familial and cultural heritage that you wished to convey to your niece (Halima Bah) through “The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima project” and through the creation of Fyen Network? Did this develop into a desire to tell even more universal stories to which young African children could relate to?
You will find that most children’s books about Africa are told through wildlife characters and/or the majority are written by non-Africans. It boils down to controlling our own narratives and images of ourselves in the world. Storytelling is one of the most important traditions humans possess to influence, shape beliefs and behaviours. We could not exist without the values, the wisdom and the courage shared from past generations through the art of storytelling. Fyen is an effort to control the stories and images of our beautiful continent.
We are Half Gambian and half Tanzanian as such, we want to bring Africa to the forefront and educate our readers that Africa is a continent full of rich history, and not the misconceived idea that Africa is a country. We want our readers to find an escape into Africa's vast richness and history while following Princess Halima in all her adventures. And most importantly, we want to empower young minds with knowledge that will peak their interest to one-day jump on a plane and make the journey to Tanzania, Ghana, or Nigeria or any country in Africa!
3. According to you, why is it important to stage (whether it is in books, films, series, cartoons, or video games) characters who look like us? Why is it so important for children, in particular, to be able to relate to people or characters they see on the screen?
Representation matters in every aspect of life and it’s no different in the world of books and animation. Stories of our countries, cultures and people with characters that have the same names as some in our families speak to our complex yet beautiful identities. It’s important for children to learn and embrace the differences in our backgrounds and cultures to develop those worldly views that will guide them in today’s interconnected world.
4. Can you tell us about the launch of your series “Princess Halima”? How did this project begin to develop in your mind and what are your ambitions for this series? What did you wish to do that did not exist already?
The African Princess, Princess Halima is a brave, curious and courageous African girl that is intrigued by the wonders of the world but specifically her continent of Africa. As a Princess, she luckily gets to travel across the continent visiting cousins, friends and family. During each visit, she takes time to explore all that these beautiful countries have to offer from the culture, fashion, languages, parks and historic sites etc. These adventures and experiences shape her worldly view and those of her readers.
We want Princess Halima to visit all 54 African countries and tell unique stories about each country to inspire and empower her readers and young Africans.
5. Who is the target audience of this series? Will it be broadcast on television and if so, are you also hoping to reach a global “western” audience? I am thinking in particular of children from diverse ethnic backgrounds who do not live on the continent.
Our target audience are children all over the world but particularly, African children. As you know, children on our continent are usually never in the conversation when it comes to entertainment and leisure. We want to be the go-to platform for all things fun, factoids and entertainment for children between the age of 2-12 years old.
6. Let's talk about your characters, who are Princess Halima and her friends?
Princess Halima, is brave and courageous. She loves traveling and learning about the world firsthand. Her P.I.A (partner in adventure) is Hawa, her best friend and travel companion. Together, they inspire and encourage each other to be the best they can be as they experience the beauty of Africa.
These are the two reoccurring characters in “The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima”.
7. Who are the artists behind the series “Princess Halima”?
Our book illustrator is from Rwanda, Dolph Banza. He loved the idea and images we envisioned when we approached him. This is truly a project written by Africans and illustrated by an African. We could not be prouder of this.
8. Most importantly! When and where will it be possible to watch “Princess Halima”?
It has been a challenging journey as we have financed everything Fyen but we are hoping, that IROKU or Netflix will come knocking on our door.
9. What’s next for the Fyen Network? Tell us about your future plans!
Animation is next for all Fyen characters. We are currently looking for partners to help us bring our series to the big screen!
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