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Black-owned animation studio Lion Forge eyeing expansion: report

The studio behind the Oscar-winning animated short “Hair Love” is looking to raise millions from investors to expand, reports say.

Black-owned animation studio Lion Forge eyeing expansion: report
The scene from 2019 Oscar-winning animated short “Hair Love”. JORDAN MAXWELL SCREENSHOT

Lion Forge Animation, the U.S.’ only Black-owned animation studio and the brainchild of Carl Reed and David Steward II, is looking to raise approximately $50 million from investors and institutional firms, a report from Bloomberg reads.

The studio behind the Oscar-winning animated short, “Hair Love,” is backed by one of the U.S.’ biggest Black empires — technology billionaire David Steward, father of Steward II.

His privately owned $17 billion company, World Wide Technology (WWT), is a technology services provider based in Missouri.

The St. Louis-based animation company already has the Steward family as a key investor. The family is reportedly worth $5.7 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg. But, according to the unnamed source, who asked to remain anonymous because fundraising efforts are private, Lion Forge expects to add staff, grow its media library, and expand its portfolio with the investment, if attained.

A spokesman for the Steward family and Lion Forge declined to comment to Bloomberg on the matter, according to the report.

Still, company representatives have made mention of wanting to expand through strategic partnerships and investments and have been looking to capitalize on its hot streak since it launched in 2019.

Lion Forge is a part of Steward II’s media company, Polarity.

In March 2022, Lion Forge promoted two-time Emmy-winning animation director Saxton Moore as its vice president of production. It also hired Neely Shamam to serve as vice president of development.

Saxton is an instinctive leader with tremendous creative acumen and a powerful ability to deliver,” Steward II said of the hires in a statement. “Equally, Neely is an executive producer with a penchant for unique storytelling and a strategic eye for talent and material that translates to great TV series, movies, and digital properties.

“Authenticity matters across Polarity’s portfolio of companies,” he added. “Our expanding leadership teams are taking the reins of brands with a singular, unique mandate to deliver diverse, authentic content representing underserved cultures, communities, voices and groups. We’re proud of what the teams are accomplishing and thrilled as Lion Forge Animation enters an exciting growth phase.”

Since then, Lion Forge has been focused on new releases. The studio is working on an adaptation of the graphic novel series HBO Max and Cartoon Network's upcoming “Iyanu: Child of Wonder.”

The 2024 animated TV series, which Lion Forge funded and oversaw, tells the story of Iyanu, a teenage orphan with no recollection of her upbringing who longs for a straightforward, ordinary life. Those aspirations are dashed when Iyanu's dormant but divine skills are awakened by a particular set of circumstances.

Iyanu sets out on a mission to fight the Corrupt, a powerful evil threatening humanity and rising in their home country, together with two other youths. Iyanu will gradually learn the truth about her background, parents, abilities, and role as the Chosen One along the road.

The epic superhero adventure draws from Nigerian culture, music, and lore.

HBO Max also picked up its 12-part TV series, “Young Love,” a spinoff of “Hair Love,” from director Matthew Cherry, in 2020. Along with Cherry and animation veteran Carl Jones, Reed and Steward will serve as executive producers.

The show will make its debut on HBO Max sometime this year. The company has signed a joint venture with China’s Starlight Media and a first-look deal with Imagine Kids+Family for a trio of projects in 2020.

Among the other Lion Forge titles:

“Lighter Than My Shadow” — about a young woman battling eating disorders;
“Mooncakes” — a Chinese American queer love story;
“The Park Bench” — about a young girl struggling to cope with her father’s Sickle Cell diagnosis. She gets help from an unlikely ally;
“Rise Up, Sing Out”— a children's show that teaches youth to respect; others, such as celebrating Black hair and exploring names that can be mispronounced or stigmatized;
“Drawn In” — About a robot hero named Spartacus that has escaped his comic and created mayhem in Midland City;
“Heiress” — the previously announced show will soon enter the pre-production phase. It is the story of Young Princess Reign, who is determined to find her way out of the shadows of her brothers, forcing her father and King to see her light.