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WAR Creates Titles for ‘Wade in the Water: A Journey Into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture’

Drawing on archival surfing footage and inspired by the water deity Mami Wata in African mythology, the 2D animation captures the authenticity of surfing moves - combining elements of African folk art and a touch of Basquiat to introduce the documentary, which reclaims the 1,000-year-old tradition of Black surfing.

Creative production company We Are Royale (WAR) has created the opening titles for the documentary feature Wade in the Water: A Journey Into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture. Directed, written, and produced by David Mesfin, the film made its U.S. premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 12.

Piloted by historical experts and community leaders in the BIPOC surfing movement, the documentary reclaims the 1,000-year-old tradition of Black surfing. Historical accounts are woven with modern-day testimonials to dismantle conventional surf culture's racial barriers.

Inspired by the water deity Mami Wata in African mythology, the lush animated sequence tells a story of ancestral reconnection through surfing. A spiritual awakening emerges from WAR’s painterly vignettes, which combine elements of African folk art and a touch of Basquiat.

WAR describes the 2D animated sequence as “rich with water metaphors derived from the African diaspora. The Negro spiritual title of the film was a key entry point for establishing the metaphorical framework. Canonized in the ‘Songs of the Underground Railroad,’ Wade in the Water took on a secret meaning as Harriet Tubman instructed enslaved African Americans on the run to hide in the water to mask their scent from the dogs tracking them. The title sequence, however, reclaims water as a symbol of redemption and empowerment, as Mami Wata calls on the surfer to return to the ocean.”

“We were drawn to the spiritual aspect of David’s film and the relationship between surfing and Black identity,” remarked WAR Creative Director Norn Jordan, “so this idea of baptism by water emerged. At the start, visually, everything on the surface of water feels light and uncomplicated; but when the surfer duck-dives under the wave, the ocean materializes into a darker, more complex world. We used imagery of serpents and shackles breaking apart to visually hint at the baptism that comes through Mami Wata’s reveal.”

“When you duck-dive, there’s a brief moment when you almost lose consciousness and become one with something bigger than yourself,” added Mesfin, “and that feeling really speaks to the larger theme of Wade in the Water – being Black and reconnecting with your past and your identity through the ocean. WAR’s title sequence brilliantly encapsulates this idea with an Afro-centric visual narrative that celebrates surfing as a source of empowerment and healing. It’s a powerful piece of art in and of itself.”

Using archival surfing footage and source material from the movie, the team at We Are Royale brought authenticity to the title sequence. The source material included books such as “AFROSURF” by Mami Wata Surf Brand (South Africa), “Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture- in the African Diaspora” by Kevin Dawson, and “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era” by Alison Rose Jefferson. The iconography of Mami Wata and the serpents emerged from these books, as well as allusions to Sankofa, a West African bird symbol whose name translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

“The symbolism of the Sankofa was a big part of the documentary’s message; this idea of looking to your past to move forward,” concluded Mesfin. “We chose to use it more subtly, incorporating it into the Mami Wata character at the end when she blows a kiss to the surfer, freeing him from the weight of the water and back to the ocean’s surface.”

Watch the title sequence for Wade in the Water:

Source: We Are Royale

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.