No Nollywood Film will compete at the next Oscars’ Awards: Here’s Why

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If Burna Boy’s 2021 Grammy success symbolizes Nigerian music’s global reach, that no Nigerian film has won or even been nominated for the Oscars’ International Film Feature (IFF) category, shows that though Nollywood is one of the world’s most fecund film industries, it is yet to command global attention. A Nigerian movie may one day claim the IFF award; it just won’t be at next year’s 95th Oscars’ Awards ceremony. The Nigeria Official Selection Committee (NOSC), the body that submits to The Academy Nigerian titles that would compete for the IFF award, did not submit a Nigerian title this year, as an NOSC statement revealed last month.

According to Chineze Anyaene-Abonyi, the NOSC’s chairperson, “although the committee received three epic films following its call for submissions in August, it turned out that none of them will advance to the next stage owing to the voting patterns of members.” She implored Nigerian filmmakers to “get more acquainted with Oscars-nominated films in the IFF category to achieve the needed international recognition and put our films in its acclaimed level of creative discourse.” The NOSC comprises 15 members, including the filmmaker Kenneth Gyang, the actor Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, the actor and producer Ego Boyo, among others.

Since getting formed in 2013, the NOSC has submitted only two Nigerian titles to The Academy—in 2019 Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart and in 2020 Desmond Ovbiageli’s The Milkmaid. The Academy disqualified Lionheart on the claim that it did not meet the IFF’s language criterion; The Milkmaid was accepted but did not reach the Oscars’ nomination stage. So the NOSC’s recent decision is the norm, not an outlier: There have been more years of absence than representation. Why the committee’s latest move has sparked a controversy is because certain members of the Nigerian public wonder if the committee did not wrongfully bypass some films.

Of the films submitted to the NOSC since August, it came down to three: the late Biyi Bandele’s Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman, Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo, and Femi Adebayo’s King of Thieves. 5 NOSC members voted for Bandele’s film, 1 member each for Afolayan’s and Adebayo’s film, while 8 members voted that none of the 3 films be tabled to The Academy. The NOSC operates a simple majority voting system.

The Nigerian writer Molara Wood is among those who have questioned the committee’s choice, tweeting, “I call bad faith on the bungling of Nigeria’s 2023 Academy Awards chances. I call on every member of the committee to reconsider their positions because that shabby statement of theirs will not do.” Afolayan, whose Anikulapo the NOSC snubbed, tweeted a veiled criticism of the body’s decision, writing that he will “keep doing my own thing”.

The Academy has bestowed the International Feature Film award since 1947. Up until 2020 it was called the Best Foreign Language Film award, with most of its winners European films—a whopping 52 of them. Only 3 African films have won the award: Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi in 2006, Costa Gavras’ Z in 1970, and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Black and White in Color in 1977. 

As is described in the NOSC website, “an international film is [a] feature-length motion picture (over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America and its territories with a predominantly (more than 50%) non-English dialog track.” The criteria allows for “animated and documentary films”. Going by this definition, the 3 films the NOSC overlooked, indeed, meet The Academy’s criteria, for they are each produced outside the US, run for more than 40 minutes, and comprise a predominantly non-English dialog track. This has raised the question of whether the committee’s voting patterns were based on the three films’ quality.

At the time this article was written, the NOSC provided no explanation for its decision, neither on its website nor its social media accounts. This “silence” has rattled a few, among whom is the Nigerian film critic Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, who believes that the NOSC has “behaved shamefully with its silence and lack of accountability.” “This is the question,” Aigbokhaevbolo tweets read, “does the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee have to select a film with a chance, no matter how little, of getting an Oscar nomination or does it have to only consider the basic eligibility criteria set by The Academy? If it’s the former, people criticising them for not presenting Anikulapo are misjudging the film and the situation. If it’s the latter, then the decision to not submit a film in 2022 is indefensible; heads should roll. Whatever the case, the NOSC needs to explain. You can’t be making a decision that affects a major industry’s opportunity to play in the big leagues and maintain a shitty silence.”

Two members of the NOSC, Mildred Okwo and Dr Shaibi Husseini, resigned from the committee a few days after the controversial decision was reached, Okwo through her Twitter account on September 29, Husseini through his on October 2. Both did not explain their resignation and it is not yet clear if it is connected to the NOSC’s choice of not presenting any Nigerian film for the IFF award for the 95th Academy Awards.

Although Nigeria has submitted no titles to The Academy, other African countries have done so: Tunisia, Erige Sehiri’s Under The Fig Trees; Morocco, Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan; Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb’s Our Brothers, among others.