The Discovery Channel has created a wildlife docuseries that examines the Serengeti region of Africa by following the day to day of the different species of animals that live on the plain over the course of a year. The production showcases the extremes involved in surviving in the Serengeti even for the mightiest of animals.
According to Forbes the aim of the docuseries is to: “provide unrivalled access to one of the most pristine and unspoiled corners of Africa”.
The docuseries titled, ‘Serengeti’ has been created and produced by Emmy winner Simon Fuller, directed and produced by Emmy-winning wildlife filmmaker John Downer and narrated by Kenyan award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Nyong’o begins her narration by giving voice to the series ‘cast’ saying, “Many tales have been told of Africa, but this is our story”.
Nyong’o told the Times that this intro resonated with her because, “We do spend a lot of time with very particular characters — the animals — and it offers us a chance to see things from their perspective and I think that’s why it becomes our story”.
“When I say that this is “our story,” it resonates deeply with me because it is something that means a lot to me. This is an inclusive story,” she added.
The Serengeti’s cast of wildlife includes Kali, a lioness who has been exiled from her pride and is struggling to raise her cubs alone; Bakari, a baboon who is trying to figure out how to win back a female baboon’s affection after another male gets her attention; and Zalika, a hyena who becomes queen of her clan sooner than she expected, among other animals.
The docuseries description reads: “In the series, Kali makes a big mistake and is left completely alone to fend for herself and her cubs, an almost impossible task in the African plains. Tembo, a young male elephant, struggles to take the next step on his journey into adulthood, while Nalla, the elephant family matriarch, juggles to lead the herd and be a mother. Across the Serengeti, Bakari the baboon looks to honour the memory of his lost love by fiercely protecting her orphaned child”.
A project that’s been years in the making, the Serengeti is set against a backdrop of original music by Will Gregory, with vocals by artists such as Lola Lennox to essentially combine Africa’s beauty with its sometimes-unforgiving environment.
Speaking to the Times on why she joined the production and why the Serengeti appealed to her Nyong’o said, “After seeing the first two episodes, I loved where Simon was coming from and was really taken by it. I was engaged, learning about specific animals. There’s a personal relationship with specific animals and you hear about the dynamic of their species and clan. You form this personal relationship with them.”
“I’ve also watched many of these documentaries, but I’ve never heard them narrated by an African and seldom a woman. To be both of those things and be the one telling the story is exciting”.
Comparisons to the Live-Action ‘Lion King’
There have been questions on the timing of Serengeti’s release and to the new iteration of the Disney film ‘Lion King’. However both the docuseries’ producer and director admitted to Deadline that it was just a coincidence.
“We certainly weren’t planning it,” said Downer of the release dates of Serengeti and The Lion King. He said he hasn’t seen the movie yet, but he said he did see the trailer and realized that it looked like their series.
“There is a convergence there,” added Downer. “The Lion King is going for photo-realism. We’re going for realism…we are trying to do something different”.
Also unlike The Lion King, the team had no way of controlling or anticipating what the animals did and therefore planning a narrative in advance would have been nearly impossible.
Downer explained that although they did have a plan, the animals had a seasonal arc that drove the narrative. “We had a very fluid script that was informed by the animals,” he said. “We follow these characters and storylines and events that were life-changing for the animals. We like to think the animals were telling their stories — we didn’t force it. We took the narrative from them”.
“The original thought was we wanted to tell the stories of the animals,” said Fuller. “Family was at the heart of most stories. We identified five [animal] families over the course of two years.”
Watch the trailer: