The Culture Joint

Francis Y. Brown brings authenticity to African animation with JABARI


Shedding light on the origin of African stories which can be traced to as far back as the ages of Kemet, founder of AnimaxFYB Studios Francis Y. Brown speaks to Akosua Hanson on the YLounge alongside DJ Kess about the soon-to-be-released short film JABARI.

Brown also speaks candidly about the future of African-centered animation on the global front.

Historically becoming the first full-time operating animation studio in Ghana, AnimaxFYB Studios has brought to life, visually appealing stories that have been recognized on international platforms including Amazon Prime – making Brown, the studio’s creative director – the first African animation creator to achieve this milestone.

Delving into Francis’ filmmaking journey, the decorated storyteller says to Hanson: It’s been rough and smooth. Initially, when I started schooling at NAFTI they offered me animation.

After doing my four-years over there, luckily enough, my graduation film (AGORKOLI) did so well in the International Film Festival. That’s what went international; as a student who was fresh in the industry.

Officially launched in 2014, AnimaxFYB Studios boasts a collection of award-winning animated short films including the must-watch AGORKOLI (2016 Africa International Film Festival: Best Animation) and Race of Life (2018 Ghana Movie Awards).

The Francis Y. Brown-led visual effects studio has also received multiple nominations from established organizations, such as the Inshort Film Festival (Best Animation: Race of Life), African International Film Festival(Best Animation: Race of Life), New York International Short Film Festival(Best Animation) Annecy International Film Festival (Oscar Qualifying) LA International Short Film Festival (Oscar Qualifying) New York International Short Film Festival (Toronto & BAFTA Qualifying) and the renowned 6th Emmy Africa Awards (Creative & Support Arts Award).

In 2019, Face 2 Face Africa named Brown one of the five African animators who can give Hollywood a run for their money. Africa Vibes Magazine echoed that Brown is one of the very few African animators who is “making animation go global.”

Giving listeners an in-depth understanding of why AnimaxFYB Studios chooses to tell the stories they tell, Brown reveals: “We say we tell authentic African stories. If  I say this, what do I mean? Basically, if I should tell any story in animation or in an audio visual form, I’m definitely telling the African story. “

“What type of story makes it the real authentic African story? We try to take off a lot of these exogenous ideas and influences that are in our system, by really showing our culture – showing who we were before colonization. Before colonization, how were we living amongst ourselves? All those things are what we want to build our foundation on.”

The animation studio is currently gearing up to release the newest addition to its ensemble – a fictional animation that is accompanied by elements of history.

The tale of JABARI follows a young orphan who grows to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth and the untold truth about the demise of his biological parents.

Set in ancient Egypt, Brown says: “JABARI is a fictional film that is based on ancient Egypt, Kemet. This is way before the invasion of the Arabs. Basically, we’re telling the story where once upon a time, Black people, Black skinned people, were actually ruling the world and built civilizations that are not broken, records that have not been broken; things that today, have been improved on for our advancement.”

“Like mathematics, architecture, like medicine, you know? All of these things were from that particular era. So we talked about it and decided that we would like to revisit some of these things. But sometimes there’s a heavy lack of research materials on these things. “

“But of course, there are certain scholars who have spent their whole lives researching this, but also, you’d want to be really careful with these things. So we played it nicely by making it fiction, and also it’s a short film before we attempt something that is bigger and historically accurate.”

Known for his multidisciplinary qualifications in the area of Illustration, Animation and Filmmaking, Francis Y. Brown has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, and has received accolades including the Best Animation Film (Africa International Film Festival, 2016) Best Creative Artist (Black British Entertainment Awards, 2017) Animator of The Year (Ghana UK Based Awards, 2017) and the Best Animation at the 2018 Ghana Movie Awards (GUBA).

In 2021, Brown became the only West African to be nominated at the Annecy International Film Festival for his 3D animation Room 5 – the film was also one out of four from Africa that was selected by the festival.

Brown further touched on what the future for African animation looks like: “UNESCO is saying that in the year 2025, the audio visual in Africa will be employing about 20 million talents, and these 20 million talents will be taking in a revenue of 20 billion dollars a year and it will only increase over time. Currently, animation is also grossing almost 400 billion dollars every year. Out of this 400 billion dollars, unfortunately, Africa is not a part of that revenue because there are no IPs or content coming in from Africa that’s sharing that pie. So it means that there’s a huge gap that we need to bridge, and with this, it means that there’s so much opportunity for some of us to be in the film and make our own.”

Produced by Dante Kaba and Francis Y. Brown with music performed by M.anifest, JABARI was co-written by Prince Moses Ofori-Atta (Afro descendants and the impact of fora of self-expression in Cuba) and Akosua Hanson (creator of African comic book Moon Girls).

Osei Kwame and Andrew Tandoe Adote are among the cast members of the upcoming fictional adventure, which is slated to hit theaters and streaming platforms in 2023.

By: Raven Kuewor

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