Netflix has an adorable new main character thanks to Griffith University alumnus Nakia Trower Shuman, and he’s fast becoming a hit with preschoolers!
Created by Ms Trower Shuman and her writing partner Sarah Katin, the TV adaptation of Not Quite Narwhal is based on the enchanting children’s book by Jessie Sima and centres around themes of acceptance and inclusion.
In Not Quite Narwhal we meet the curious and fun-loving Kelp who always believed he was a narwhal like the rest of his family under the sea (medium-sized toothed whales that possess a large ‘tusk’ from a protruding canine tooth), until the day he gets swept away by a strong current and discovers he’s actually a unicorn!
Rather than choosing to be one or the other, Kelp embraces being both a narwhal and a unicorn, juggling his day-to-day life as he figures out how to navigate his two worlds in the ocean and on land.
Ms Trower Shuman said from the moment she read the book, she knew it was something special.
“I was already working with Dreamworks on some other shows when Vice President of Development Vanessa Taylor-Sands handed us a bunch of books and said to let her know if we gravitated towards any of them,” she said.
“Not Quite Narwhal was just an incredible story that just ticked all the boxes for us – it had comedy, adventure and heart which are all the things we normally write about, but also magic and this theme of just owning who you are and self-acceptance no matter your difference which was really powerful.
“People often ask author and illustrator of the book Jessie Sima if it’s a coming out story, a bi-racial story or an adoption story and the answer is always just ‘yes’ and that’s the beauty of the theme.”
Previously working on more live action and PG, MA or even R-rated shows (but always containing comedy, adventure and heart) Ms Trower Shuman said the duo were very conscious of their new audience.
“First and foremost, we want our shows to be entertaining and for the kids to have fun, but also for them to find a connection with the characters,” she said.
“We don’t take it lightly that we’re writing for very impressionable young minds, so we want to put out something of substance, that has positive underlying themes and that they’re able to take away something good from.”
Graduating from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Communication majoring in screen production and theatre in 2000, Ms Trower Shuman got straight into the film industry with Warner Brothers on the Gold Coast, but decided to satisfy her urge to travel before settling into that world.
Meeting her writing partner and good friend Sarah in Korea, she eventually suggested they try their hand at writing, and so the journey began.
“When we decided to write our first screenplays, I gave one to my husband (who is also in the industry) to read and he just looked up and said ‘this is terrible’,” she laughed.
“He was absolutely right though — you can’t just roll out of bed and say ‘I’m going to be a screenwriter’ but we’d had such an amazing time doing it so we dived into everything we could from books, lectures and panels to meeting with people and mentors and read so many scripts and just wrote and wrote and wrote script after script until we got there.
“Since then we’ve met some amazing people — it’s remarkable how much people are willing to help each other — it’s really nice, it doesn’t take a lot and I’m very grateful.”
Not Quite Narwhal shot to number four on Netflix within two days of premiering and has been dubbed all around the world.
The first season is available to stream now, with another season already created and more hopefully in the pipeline.