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The Oscars: African filmmakers want continental categories

by Editorial Team
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By Hussein Kiganda

Filmmakers in Africa want the Oscars (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) to put up continental categories to enable them to compete favourably at the awards event.

At this year’s edition, in the category of Best International Feature, only eight films from Africa; Tembele (Uganda), Under The Fig Trees (Tunisia), Tug of War (Tanzania), Xale (Senegal), The Blue Caftan (Morocco), Terastorm (Kenya), The Planters Plantation (Cameroon) and Our Brother (Algeria), made it to the eligibility list. Only The Blue Caftan made it to the shortlist. However, this, too, was pushed out on the nomination day, January 24, 2023.

Well, Africa has not won many awards at the Oscars. With nine nominations, it has bagged only three awards – Algerian movie Z won in 1969, Black and White in Color from Ivory Coast in 1976, and Tsotsi from South Africa in 2005.

It should also be noted that Z was directed by a Greek-French veteran Costa-Gavras and was about politics in Greece. It was, however, made in Algeria.

Black and White in Color was also directed by French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Directed by Gavin Hood,  Tsotsi is the only film among the three that was made by an African filmmaker.

Following this history, many African filmmakers believe that it is nearly impossible for a typically Black African to win this category. Most of them reason that Africa’s missing out on the nomination list is a signal that African movies are not appreciated globally.

Aurelien Henry Obama, a Cameroonian actor, martial arts master, and filmmaker, stresses that the majority of the jurors at the Oscars are Americans and Europeans; they do not relate to stories and realities coming from Africa and do not understand the struggle, difficulties, and hardships Africans face while making movies.

Aurelien Henry Obama

“The real issue is the jury members. Most of them are Europeans and Americans, how do you expect them to relate to our stories?” he wondered.

Adding to Obama’s voice, Zimbabwean filmmaker Mashal Mpofu feels that the outside world does not recognise the films made by Africans. He also reasons that the film players in the global market space have not yet got interested in African films.

“These people do not recognise us and do not think we are serious. There are many films that we do have that can scoop awards at the Oscars but they cannot pick them. Our stories are even better than theirs, they are just not interested in us,” says Mpofu.

Dr. Cindy Magara, a film lecturer at Makerere University, reasons that the outside world perceives Africa as one country, something that has retarded the progress of African films at different International film festivals.

“I think the challenge is that most Bazungu (white people) tend to take Africa as one country. Even as a continent, we are not homogeneous. Some people identify as Arabs while the rest are Africans. It is a complex dynamic,” Magara says.

Cindy Magara

Upon such grounds, she, Obama,  Tanzanian filmmaker Anne Maria Soledad and several other Africans, reason that there is a need to create a special category that recognises Black Africans, or consider putting up continental categories.

“We need to lobby for representation as Black Africans. But we should be cognisant of the fact that our films should be competitive. Film is a universal language,” Magara says.

“To me, I think the Oscars should put up continental categories. I mean considering those categories on their own,” Soledad reasons.

“It is very important that the Academy considers these continental categories because some of us will concentrate on our content and let others do theirs and we will feel comfortable and honoured because it is very difficult for us to perform well, considering that other countries from different continents are equipped in finance, infrastructure and more,” Mpofu says.

“I believe that continental categories will be more advantageous for Africa. Each continent has its own specific realities, genres, and approach to telling stories.  Each continent can have at least 5 to 10 nominees that can reflect the different regions,” Says Henry Obama. 

The challenge of being weak financially is being pointed at as a stumbling block to the success of Africans at prestigious awards. Most filmmakers assert that other continents have enough financial resources to make competing movies. Several others reason that Europeans and Americans want Africans to tell African stories in the same style yet they(Africans) have a different approach basing on culture and traditions.

Nigerian filmmaker Natty Bruce Idigbogu is confident that if Africans beef up their financial and human resource muscles, African films could become the next big thing.

“As a matter of fact, we have great African stories that can make the next global box-office blockbusters if properly structured. Next is to put up the right facilities in place in terms of financial and human resources. Putting up continental categories could still be a plus in the process,” says Idigbogu.

Natty Bruce Idigbogu

However, American actor and producer Morocco Omari warns that continental categories would dilute the gist and honour that has been kept by the Academy for ages. He reasons that instead of demanding continental categories, African filmmakers should collaborate for better projects to reach the Academy standards and to compete collectively.

“If Africa had its own category, then every country would request the same treatment. They have a category for best foreign film. It’s not about the money, Nigeria has a lot of it. It’s about execution, a great script, directors, and actors. A lot of filmmakers try to shoot too fast and that can hurt a film,” says Omari.

“The talent and resources are there but it needs to be a more collaborative effort. If the film community came together and helped each other instead of creating their own camps, most countries would be stronger artistically,” Omari advises.

Film analyst Allan Nallas and Dialo Sekidde, a film lecturer at Kampala Film School, agree with Omari on collaboration, rushing productions, and being seen as weaklings if Africa gets a continental category.

“Personally, I don’t subscribe to this thinking because if we want to be taken serious then we should stay and compete in the same bracket of the playing field,” Nallas says.

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