Before my interview with Adamu Waziri, I reached out to several African American parents with young children to ask them about their children’s favorite cartoons. Then I asked them if any of the main characters in their children’s favorite cartoons looked like their children. All of the parents said “No”. Then I asked the parents if they were aware of any African or African American cartoons. They could only recall old shows like Fat Albert, Little Bill, and The Jackson 5ive.
After I did a little research, I was shocked to learn that this wasn’t just a problem for African-American children but a problem for children of African descent across the entire globe. Our children have few opportunities to see themselves when they watch cartoons, television programs, or children friendly movies.
Adamu Waziri, a Nigerian animator created Bino and Fino, an educational animation for our children. Bino and Fino are a close-knit Nigerian brother and sister duo who along with their magical friend, Zeena, the butterfly, discover and learn things about everyday life and the world. The show is set in a modern Nigerian city with all the elements of traditional Nigerian culture. Below is my interview the creator of Bino and Fino.
Phillips: What inspired you to create Bino and Fino?
Waziri: It was a combination of things, but I’ll say the main thing, was that I noticed that we didn’t have any Nigerian based children’s programs. All the children’s animation programs we were getting were coming from the outside and none of them had a direct connection to our children. Our children were watching cartoons that had no African or Nigerian cultural content. So, when Nigerian children watched cartoons, they were watching cartoons that were created in The United Kingdom, The United States, or Japan. Before Bino and Fino, children’s programming consisted of shows like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Voltron, Speed Racer, Family Guy, and shows on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. One of the reasons that I created Bino and Fino was to bring balance to the animated content for Nigerian children.
Phillips: What can parents expect their children to learn from watching Bino and Fino?
Waziri: Parents can expect their children to be entertained and learn a combination of things. We try to keep Bino and Fino a family-centric program with an African focus. So, within each episode you’ll learn or see something that will teach you about Nigeria, other African countries, African culture, the African diaspora, our history, and geography. Depending on which episode you watch, the message might be right in your face or sometimes the message is quite subtle. In addition to learning generic subjects like math, history, and the animal kingdom, your children will learn about the experiences of children in modern African cities.
Another important message that we try to include in Bino and Fino is the importance of self-esteem and self-worth for young girls. We want young girls to think beyond the usual scope of what they are taught to think about their potential. We don’t want girls to feel limited to being cute little princesses in pink, we want them to see themselves as future scientist, engineers, and leaders who can contribute to solving issues facing our communities.
Phillips: Do you think Bino and Fino can help reconnect African American children to the African continent? If so, how?
Waziri: Yes, Bino and Fino can be a tool for African American children and children of the African diaspora to reconnect with Africa through the experiences of Bino and Fino that they see on screen. One of the ways that we try to stay connected with our viewers is by finding out what’s happening from a kid’s perspective. Children throughout the African diaspora can watch a positive show and see the connection between what’s going on in their community and what’s going on in Nigeria. I think parents and teachers can assist their children and students to see the connection between their community and Africa.
We want children to connect with modern Africa as opposed to images or ideas that aren’t consistent with modern life in Africa. We want children to see typical middle class Nigerian family life. Hopefully, Bino and Fino will encourage children of the African diaspora to explore Africa.
Phillips: What feedback have you received from parents and children after they watch several episodes of Bino and Fino?
Waziri: The responses have varied. The majority of the parents loved our show but we’ve had a few parents who didn’t like Bino and Fino. Some parents were more interested in Bino and Fino than their children because they learned new information that they weren’t taught in school. In some episode, we have historical content about The Benin Walls, which is just as large as The Great Wall of China but very few people are exposed to this information. Some parents tell us that their children were glued to the TV because watching Bino and Fino was the first time that they saw characters that looked like them on screen. Also, we have received positive feedback from parents who said that their children were entertained and educated from watching Bino and Fino. Overall the majority of the feedback has been positive.
Phillips: Who was responsible for Bino and Fino’s character creation?
Waziri: I took the lead in character development. I wanted to just give out some subtle signals that celebrate natural African hairstyles, African fabrics, and our culture. We haven’t gone as far as we can with giving viewers the complete African experience but we are still in the beginning stages. In the future we would love to have fun with different hair styles that are more representative of the culture, for instance, the traditional hairstyles from the Ebo tribes region. It’s amazing what they do with their hair, but we haven’t even touched that yet. Bino and Fino are tools for us to express our cultural experience to children on the continent and abroad.
Phillips: What challenges did you face when you created Bino and Fino and how did you overcome those challenges?
Waziri: The two main challenges that we faced were funding and finding talent to create Bino and Fino. After watching so many children animation produced by Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon, and Netflix that are created in the United States, The UK, and Japan, we wanted Bino and Fino to be created by people from our continent so that the finished product is authentic. Animation production is an incredibly long and expensive process. After you have have completed the production process, then you must find distribution channels. So we faced similar challenges as your typical start-up business. We are fortunate that we can connect directly to our customers through YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms.
The final challenge was many people were opposed to using Nigeria actors who speak English with a Nigerian accent. Several people suggested that we get American voice actors so that we would have an easier time bringing our product to America. We stayed committed to keeping Bino and Fino as authentic Nigerian children and we didn’t want them to sound American. The average child in Nigeria who speaks English doesn’t sound like an American because they have an accent. This was another interesting challenge because Africans and people in the diaspora have been conditioned to want to alter themselves in order to try to please others.
Phillips: Do you have any closing comments?
Waziri: Yes, thank you for sharing Bino and Fino with your audience in America. Over the next five to ten years, we are going to need help from you and your readers to provide parents and children with more choices. We can’t wait on the major networks to provide our children with entertaining and education content that inspires them to strive for excellence. We are going to do our part as producers to create quality content for children but we need your support. We need your readers to share Bino and Fino with their friends and family. Help us teach our kids and build their self-confidence. We want our kids to know that they have value and that their dreams are limitless.