Photo credit: Netflix

Film & TV

Schoolgirls Use Science to Outsmart the Villains in a New Super Hero Series

Photo credit: Netflix

Netflix’s foray into African animation heralds a new era for creators across the continent

By Kenechukwu Nwokedi

August 2023

Supa Team 4, originally titled Mama K’s Team 4, is Netflix’s first-ever African animation series, set in a futuristic version of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. The lighthearted action-adventure series centers on the lives of four schoolgirls (Monde, Zikomo, Komana, and Temwe) in Kamiji Secondary School whose lives are changed when they’re suddenly tasked with the responsibility of working as covert superheroes fighting to keep the bustling city of Lusaka safe.


Monde is a new student and a majorette, Zikomo is a football star, Komana is the type-A brilliant student, and Temwe is the impulsive rascal with a voracious appetite. Team 4 operates under the supervision of Mama K, a tech-savvy sixty-year-old woman who was a covert government spy in her heyday. With the help of her AI assistant, Technological Operations Management Interface (T.O.M.I) à la Iron Man’s Jarvis, Mama K equips each of the girls with super suits and high-tech gear tailored to their personalities with code names to boot. In each episode, the girls are presented with a supervillain to defeat, and they are also expected to juggle their world-saving duties along with their academics and other whimsical adolescent misadventures. 


The eight-part series, created by native Zambian Malenga Mulendema, was announced in 2019 but had been in development since 2015. In its early stages, the show was pitched to development executives from the South African computer animation film studio, Triggerfish and The Walt Disney Company. Eventually Mulendema became one of the 8 successful candidates of the Triggerfish Story Lab — a pan-African talent search to assist budding African creators and film producers by providing them with mentorship and funding to develop their ideas into video content for the international market.


Following an increasing demand for African content, with successful shows like South Africa’s “Blood and Water,” Supa Team 4 comes on the heels of Netflix’s plan to significantly invest (since 2016, the streaming giant reportedly invested approximately $175 million in film production across Africa) in the continent’s creative economy with the goal of amplifying the voices of African creators and showcasing the rich diversity of African stories. 


Additionally, the recent success and acclaim of films like Marvel’s Black Panther (although set in the fictional nation of Wakanda) and The Woman King indicate that audiences are very interested in stories that center Africans — our history, our stories, the scramble for our resources, and how we see the world. Mulendema stated that her original desire for creating the show was to spotlight Africa and increase investment and production on the continent. Zambia’s capital is now being hailed as a potential hub for its creators eager to dabble in the animation scene.


On top of that, Mulendema has drawn the attention of management companies like Newmation, determined to mine African stories and “hyper focused on producing new films and series from Africa for a global audience”. Newmation also recently signed Ziki Nelson, creator of the upcoming original animated Disney + series, Iwájú and is primed to produce more African content.  Furthermore, with shows like the pan-African animated series, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, being lauded as a watershed moment for the African animation industry and Netflix partnering with GOBELINS to offer scholarships to African animators, it’s clear that the African animation scene is picking up steam and slowly taking center stage on a global scale. 


Supa Team 4 is propelled with a spirited theme song performed by singer and rapper, Sampa the Great, and its characters are cheerfully voiced by John Kani (who played T’Challa’s father in Black Panther), Pamela Nomvete, Zowa Ngwira, Namisa Mdlalose, Kimani Arthur and Nancy Sekhokoane (The Woman King). It’s a frequently funny show that manages to interweave elements of science and comedy organically. For instance, episode four sees the team battle a supervillain crocodile named The Alley Gator, and when Monde reminds the villain that there are no alligators in Africa [just crocodiles], he quickly acquiesces and admits to choosing his moniker out of convenience. The show’s fifth episode sees Team 4 fight a woman named Sunblock; a self-aggrandizing supervillain who literally blocks the sun and harnesses its solar power to run her vlog. When the team admits to never having heard of her, they run a search for her online and only come up with results for sunblock lotion.


Most of the episodes end with the team (mostly the tech whizz, Komana if I’m being honest) defeating the villains by coming up with scientific solutions and applying them; whether it’s draining solar energy from Sunblock back to the city’s power stations or figuring out how to use non-metals to defeat a magnet-wielding villain. The point the show succeeds in making is that African wisdom and knowledge – not just ideas/achievements propagating from the Global North – are essential in the advancement of science and technology. 


Supa Team 4 draws inspiration from the plethora of media centered around mystery-solving, crime-fighting squads and anyone well versed in kid’s animation shows like Action Pack may find it a tad formulaic. But it’s the show’s distinct characters, colorful aesthetics, and real-world-futuristic setting that make it appealing to both kids and adults alike. Tying all of this together is how the show foregrounds themes of friendship by having the girls tackle interpersonal issues, usually with the help of one another, which in turn helps them understand the value of teamwork. The show is worthwhile because it’s one of the best of its kind — not simply because it’s the first.