Viewers will soon be transported to the vast and magical grasslands of Africa when Discovery Channel’s new series, Serengeti, premieres on Sunday. The docuseries follows the heartwarming and harrowing tales of wildlife living within Tanzania’s largest national park.
Kenya native Lupita Nyong’o narrates the six-part series, produced by Emmy-winning filmmakers Simon Fuller and John Downer, who also directed the show.
Having visited plenty of safaris throughout her lifetime, Nyong’o, in an interview with Newsweek, said she was overwhelmed by the majesty of Africa’s nearly untouched plains. However, it was the uncanny similarities many of the animals in the Serengeti shared with mankind, as well as the dramatic moments that filled their day-to-day lives, that made her feel even more connected to her home country and all the inhabitants there.
“This documentary is so much about dramatic tension because you’re following characters and you’re following their wants, their fears, their desires, their hopes and you’re rooting for them,” the Academy Award winner said of the cast of animals featured in the film. “The filmmakers did such an incredible job of creating that narrative thread throughout six episodes. At the end of the day the larger questions being explored, they really resonate.”
Serengeti premieres on the Discovery Channel on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. See Newsweek’sinterview with Nyong’o below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
How did you get involved with the project?
Simon Fuller walked me through this idea he had about doing a documentary from the perspective of the animals. Now I am not in any way an expert nor an avid watcher of these kinds of things—although I do enjoy them from time to time—but I sensed the novelty of it. I certainly had not experienced this kind of narrative and I was intrigued by it. Serengeti is a park adjacent to my home. It’s not one that I have visited myself but I know of its majesty, I know how incredible it is. So I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to spend time in that park with these particular animals and to learn about them in the intimate way this project offers.
What did you find most shocking about the Serengeti and the inhabitants there?
I’m very familiar with the savanna grasslands and the wildlife of that area. I’ve gone on plenty of safaris. I’ve been going on safaris my entire life really. Yet still, the most shocking thing was how similar all the species ended up being to us. This documentary does a little bit too good of a job of following both prey and predator, and you invest in both sides. You invest in the dynamics of the families because you’re following these specific clans, so you end up very emotionally invested in their survival. But when you’re doing that for both predator and prey it’s very tense. You want for both sides to win.
What was your take on the way the documentary explores the family dynamics within the Serengeti?
I think both male and female dynamics play out in very extreme ways. Just to see, for instance, the female cheetahs—they’re loners, they’re destined to live on their own—the solitary nature of their lifestyle was fascinating to me, as opposed to the lions where all the females stay together. But the roles of the female lions were also fascinating. It’s the lioness who goes out and to hunt but it’s the lion that protects them from their own kind. Both the males and females have really integral and vital roles in keeping them alive and in keeping them thriving. That was very exciting to see—the way in which both sexes worked together to exist because the females cannot provide for their families if the males do not protect them. The fact that a lion’s enemy would be his own kind was shocking. When I was watching [the show] I was reminded of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy where she examines the ways in which man is mankind’s worst enemy. This, in a way, was playing out with lions’ storyline. Ultimately sometimes our own species can be our own worst enemy. That’s crazy!
How do you feel to be one of few women to narrate a nature documentary?
I’m really proud of that. I didn’t consider that at the time that I accepted the role. All I could think about was, “I get to be David Attenborough!” And who doesn’t wanna be that? Being an African and having so many nature documentaries based in our continent voiced by people that are not from there, I definitely recognized this would be a first—at least for me. I’ve never heard this style of documentary narrated by an African, and that was something extremely refreshing and exciting for me. I get to narrate about my land. Every episode opens with the line, “Many tales have been told of Africa, but this is our story,” and I really felt that. I felt the inclusion finally with me having the opportunity to be the voice through which people hear this tale.