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WASHINGTON - Educating children about something as complicated and frightening as the coronavirus is not easy. Nigerian filmmaker Niyi Akinmolayan decided to use the universal symbol of a big, green cartoon monster with sharp teeth.
"There was a struggle to try and explain to my five-year-old what it meant for everyone to be on the lockdown," Akinmolayan told VOA. "But beyond that was also to explain to them what the coronavirus was and how to get them washing their hands."
In a 93-second animated video, a young boy named Habeeb desperately wants to go out to play football. His older sister, Funke, warns him that because of the virus, playing with his friends is unsafe.
"Mummy will be sick, no more jollof rice. Daddy will be sick, no more going out to see movies," Funke says.
An uncertain Habeeb peeks out through the door to see a giant, green coronavirus-shaped monster roaring. He slams the door screaming "it's real, it's real."
Akinmolayan said he wanted to make the impact the virus is having come alive for children, but also empower them to prevent it.
"I kept failing at every logical attempt I made until I came up with the idea of the monster that was outside. And the monster would prevent you from going out to have fun," Akinmolayan said. "And I was like, 'the only way we're all going to beat this monster is by washing our hands.' So, I think when I had that exchange with him, that was the light bulb moment."
Akinmolayan is a popular director whose film "The Wedding Party 2" is the highest-grossing movie in the history of Nigeria's film industry, nicknamed "Nollywood." He is the founder and creative director of Ant Hill studios and his latest film, "The Set Up," is streaming on Netflix.
He said during the lockdown he reached out to his friends and co-workers in the film industry and they collaborated on the animated project. "They were already working from home," he said. "And I said, 'hey guys, you know what's going to happen? I'm going to write a script. I'm going to do the voicing and all that. We're going to voice it in all the four key languages in Nigeria and then we're going to do the animation.' And that's what we did."
He has been blown away by the response. He uploaded it to Google Drive and made it free to download and reuse on all social media platforms.
In addition to the original four languages - English, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo - it has been translated into French, Swahili and Portuguese. It airs regularly on various Nigerian television channels, a pan-African cable network, and has been aired as far away as Brazil.
"I don't even know how far it has gone. Every night they send me bits and pieces and clips," said Akinmolayan via Skype.
But he says he is most excited about the positive effect the video is having on children. "I actually get parents sending me screenshots or videos and they tell me that I have made their kids make them run out of soap," he said. "So parents are running out of soap because the kids, once they watch the film, even if they have just come out of the shower, they go and pour more soap on their hands."