Netflix Wins ‘Tunga,’ Animated Musical From Zimbabwe-Born Newcomer Godwin Jabangwe
By Mike Fleming Jr., Deadline
At an unprecedented moment of inclusion that has gripped the Hollywood creative community after the shameful #MeToo scandals, Tunga is an important development. Jabangwe’s is the first deal to close out of the 22 projects developed in Impact 1, the program initiated by Imagine Entertainment cofounders Brian Grazer and Ron Howard to open a door to new voices by paying unknowns to develop film and TV projects that were pitched to the industry late last year. Several other Impact 1 deals are in the offing, and many of the participants in the program have been signed by agencies. That includes Jabangwe, whose agents at Verve brokered the auction. Jabangwe is also repped now by Lit Entertainment Group and Jackoway Austen Tyerman.
Jabangwe will continue to write on the project for Netflix. Tunga is inspired by the mythology of the Shona culture of Zimbabwe, a culture Jabangwe was raised in as a child. It tells the tale of a young African girl named Tunga, who, after the death of her father, must venture to a mythical lost city where her people’s spiritual elders can teach her how to summon the rain and save her village from a long-enduring drought. Accompanying Tunga is her animal totem Zuze — a wooden figurine that comes to life as a trouble-making honey badger — who Tunga must learn to trust and work with in order to complete her journey.
It is the first sale for Jabangwe, who discovered screenwriting while working eight hour shifts in a community college library, this after he left for the United States with one suitcase and a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Unfortunately, the airline lost his suitcase, leaving him with little more than his screenwriting dreams. He righted his course and graduated the UCLA screenwriting MFA program. The Impact program pairs each creator with a “shaper,” an experienced mentor. Godwin’s shaper on Tunga was Kate Purdee, Co-EP of Bojack Horseman, who won the 2018 WGA Award for Animation.
“I never dreamed that a story set in Zimbabwe, on the streets that I grew up playing soccer with a homemade ball, would get made,” Jabangwe said. “I’m thrilled to be working with Netflix to bring Tunga to life and grateful to Imagine Impact for helping me take the strand of an idea and weaving it into a tale that I truly hope the world will love.”
Said Imagine Impact head Tyler Mitchell: “We couldn’t be more thrilled for Godwin to be the first Creator to close a deal, for he is everything that an Impact writer represents. He is a unique, fresh, original voice and has an incredibly imaginative story that only he could tell, with themes that are universal. Tunga is going to be a remarkable animated feature and will shine a beautiful light on the people, culture and music of Zimbabwe, and we know Godwin will go on to have a bright career and continue to tell inspiring stories.”
Applications for the next iteration of the program, Impact 2, are currently under review, with a program start date of April 1, 2019.