Arts + Culture

Meet the Ugandan Student Filmmaker Who Gave 'Arthur' a Viral Teen Drama Twist

We speak with Daniel Nkoola, the mind behind the viral trailer that remixed your favorite childhood cartoon into a teen drama.

Halloween 2017 wouldn't be relevant without the numerous black creatives executing amazing costumes that were out of this world.

One viral moment that surrounded the holiday was the reimagining of everyone's favorite cartoon as a dark, teen drama.


These photos did numbers on Twitter, and we wanted more. Then came the trailer shortly after by Ugandan student, Daniel Nkoola.

Nkoola is currently a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin. He moved to Texas from Uganda in late 2001 and remembers Arthur being one of his favorite cartoons to watch growing up.

He says he's always been a storyteller, but it wasn't until he discovered YouTube in its early days that he realized he could tell stories with the few resources he had.

"I didn't need to have lots of money or equipment to hold my own on that platform," he says in an email to OkayAfrica. "YouTube has changed significantly, but back in 2009 it seemed to democratize visual storytelling. Not before long, I knew that film would be my medium of choice to tell the stories that were on my heart."

Read our conversation below, where we talk further about the inspiration behind this project and his creative process.

Antoinette Isama for OkayAfrica: What sparked the idea to put a spin on a nostalgic cartoon that we all love?

Daniel Nkoola: As Halloween approached, I knew I had a shot at finally going viral with a solid group costume. At some point, the growing popularity of Riverdale (which I had never seen at the time) crossed my mind, and I thought of how goofy it would be to take an even more innocuous children's cartoon and put an edgy spin on it. I asked myself, "What kids' show has no place being adapted into a teen drama murder mystery?" While in the shower, Arthur came to me. And I knew immediately that it was perfect because of how hilariously absurd it would be in the teen drama genre (therefore, the more we commit to the bonkers premise, the funnier it becomes), and also because of how much of an essential text it had become on the twitter platform in the last couple of years. I knew from the success of the memes that a large portion of Twitter users were familiar with the cartoon and/or children's book, in addition to having a universal familiarity of the YA-drama genre. So I knew people would get the joke.

What was your creative process with the staging, lighting and costume design?

A few nights before we shot, I made a trek around campus to search for gorgeous places that would have adequate lighting in the night time. We relied almost exclusively on that light which was already present (supplementing it occasionally with our cell phone flashlights, and using our clothes as makeshift bounces/reflectors). Luckily for all of us, Ukairo Ukairo (@ukairoukpai) has a great eye, and is gifted with a camera. He knew how to make the most of the locations to accentuate all of our beautiful faces.

Ukairo and I determined blocking and staging on an impromptu basis upon reaching each location. It was important to me to maintain visual variety (with regards to color, composition, movement, pace, volume, etc.) so that the scenarios we shot looked like various scenes from different episodes of this fake television show when put in trailer form.

Costuming was a collaboration on everyone's part, with each person constructing the majority of their own outfit. I basically sent each actor a picture of their Arthur character, and told them to put an angsty, college-millennial spin on the character designs. They could take enormous liberties, as long as they incorporated the main colors worn by that character in the original cartoon. I supplied animal ears, and D.W./Rachel Obimah (@missnewyorkgiant) did some minimalist makeup based on what animal each character was (for example, Buster's whiskers).

How do you feel about the positive response the trailer has received so far—especially since it's in the midst of going viral?

It's exceedingly gratifying. I make things for the pleasure of an audience, so the fact that it's reaching so many people, who also happen to be enjoying it, makes me feel wonderful.

Can we expect more of these trailers from you?

This specific project was strictly a Halloween endeavor. But you can expect other kinds of video content (short films, visual mixtapes, etc.) over the course of the next 6 to 7 months and onwards. Among these projects is The Mountaintop webseries.

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