The selected films have impressively shown great potential, having garnered recognition and critical acclaim from major international film festivals and film critics.
By Helena Olori
The year has been, undeniably, a remarkable one for African cinema, and indie filmmakers and newcomers have left no stone unturned, as evident in the Academy Awards selections from the various African film industries.
From unconventional and culture-redefining short stories such as Netflix and UNESCO’s African Folklores, Reimagined, boundary-pushing animations (Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, Supa Team 4, Jabari), groundbreaking features (Mami Wata, Omen, All Colours of the World Are Between White and Black, Gangs of Lagos, Banel and Adama), to expository documentaries (Mother of All Lies), African filmmakers have held their grounds, shining brightly on the global stage.
These filmmakers have audaciously told strong narratives that not only challenge the status quo, but also redefined African stories in a truer sense and from an African gaze.
Notably, a number of films have been selected to represent their respective countries to compete in the Best International Features category at the 96th Academy Awards. The category is keenly contested, and hardly does the award go to the global south film industry.
As the stiff race continues in anticipation of the Oscars shortlist to be revealed on December 21, 2023, here are the films representing the continent, and a recap of their journey so far:
Mami Wata is Nigeria’s Official Selection
Despite the number of films churned out annually, Nigeria has failed to make an official submission for the Academy Awards in the last two years. And so, when the Nigerian Official Selection Committee, NOSC, chaired by veteran actress, Stephenie Linus, announced Mami Wata – albeit in a hushed tone – as Nigeria’s official submission for the Oscars weeks after the October 2 deadline, the news was met with great excitement from avid filmgoers and culture critics.
CJ Obasi’s third feature film, Mami Wata, described as bold, authentic, and aesthetically daring, is a film that took almost a decade to create. But since wrapping productions, the West African folklore has marked several milestones and recorded multiple wins, including the Sundance Special Jury Award for Cinematography, a first for the Nigerian film industry.
Mami Wata has and continues to garner acclaim both on the homefront and internationally, having screened in major festivals and cinemas across Europe, South America, and Africa. The fantasy drama is rated 100%, with 29 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
Burkina Faso Makes Second Appearance at the Oscars with Sira
Since her first-ever submission for the Best International Feature category in 1989 (then known as Best Foreign Language Film), the West African nation has not been represented until now. Sira, one of the high-performing African films of the year, has now been selected to represent the country.
The film, written and directed by Apolline Traoré, has racked up awards from prestigious festivals, such as the Berlin International Film Festival (where it won the Panorama Audience Award for Best Feature Film), Amnesty International Film Awards, and FESPACO. Sira featured in the line-up for the Centrepiece programme at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival.
Banel & Adama Represents Senegal
Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s debut feature, Banel & Adama, is another high-flyer contending for the category.
The film, rated 94% with 16 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, is selected for its “unique approach, technical and artistic excellence, and its relevant themes”, and will represent Senegal at the Oscars. Banel & Adama, an unconventional story of fierce love, has garnered accolades to its name, including winning the Bright Horizons Award at the 2023 Melbourne International Film Festival. It also competed for the Caméra d’Or and Palme d’Or categories at the 76th Cannes Festival.
Namibia Makes History with Debut Submission, Under the Hanging Tree
Namibia, renowned for its scenic landscapes, is no stranger to Oscar-worthy films, but only as a filming location for iconic productions such as Mad Max – Fury Road (2015), 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Cell (2000), The Mummy (2017), and a couple of others, some of which have bagged Oscars for productions design or best visuals. However, Namibia’s film industry has had only about 20 feature films and has never been represented at the Academy Awards.
In a historic move heralded by the country’s significant growth record in recent years, Namibia’s International Feature Film Awards Selection Committee has now nominated Under the Hanging Tree, as its first-ever official submission to represent the country at the Oscars.
The film, the third feature from Perivi Katjavivi, is a supernatural noir that explores Namibia’s dark colonial history, racism, and superstition.
Morocco Marks Its Presence with a Dramatic Documentary, The Mother of All Lies
Morocco is taking a different route to the Academy Awards this year, as the Moroccan Film Centre has selected Asmae El Moudir’s award-winning documentary, The Mother of All Lies to compete for the Best International Feature Film category, against the conventional feature drama many African countries have taken.
The Mother of All Lies, a dramatic blend of personal and national history, is a recipient of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity in 2022 and winner of the Sydney Film Prize at the 2023 festival.
Four Daughters to Represent Tunisia
Tunisia’s Ministry of Culture has selected Kaouther Ben Hania’s docudrama, Four Daughters, tolling the same route as Morocco.
Four Daughters, a mix of documentary and fiction, is a strong contender in the race. The co-recipient of the Cannes’ Best Documentary Prize, won Best International Film at the Munich Film Festival, and the Jury Award at the International Competition of the Brussels Film Festival.
Egypt’s Submission, Voy! Voy! Voy!, is Inspired by True Events
Produced by Mohamed Hefzy’s Film Clinic production company and Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the mystery comedy, inspired by true events, follows Hassan’s story, a security guard posing as visually impaired so as to join a blind football team heading to the World Cup. His journey involves encounters with a journalist and a coach, showcasing his pursuit of a brighter future in Europe.
Voy! Voy! Voy! recorded an impressive theatrical release in September, topping the box office in Egypt.
Sudan Submits Cannes Prize Winner, Goodbye Julia
Sudan has chosen Mohamed Kordofani’s debut feature, Goodbye Julia, as its official submission for the Oscars, marking its second entry for the Academy Awards.
The film had its world premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, where it won the festival‘s Un Certain Regard Freedom Prize.
Kenya Picks Anti-corruption Crusader, Mvera
The Kenyan Film Commission chose Daudi Anguka’s Mvera, an English and Swahili-language drama as its entry for the Best International Feature Film category.
The film had its world premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival and also played at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
Since its release on September 9, the anti-corruption-themed film, produced by Mombasa-based AR-Film Production, has earned an estimated total of 8,000,000 Kenyan Shilling.
Meanwhile, Augure (Omen) by Belgian-Congolese filmmaker, Baloji, marked a historic moment for African cinema, becoming the first African film to represent Belgium at the Oscars. Though a significant development for the African film industry, it is, however, a missed opportunity for the Central African Republic.
Omen is rated 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has received critical acclaim locally and internationally. The film marks Baloji’s directorial debut, and won the “New Voice Prize” award at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. It is the most nominated film for the upcoming 19th Africa Movie Academy Awards with 13 nods.
Although, many African films have been previously submitted for the Oscars Best International Feature Film, only Algeria (Z, 1970), South Africa (Tsotsi, 2006), and Ivory Coast (Black and White in Colour, 1977) have won the award.
Nonetheless, the 10 nominations from Africa this year (higher than the 8 recorded last year) affirm the remarkable growth being recorded in Africa’s burgeoning cinema.
The selected films, impressively, have also shown great potential at winning the category at the Oscars 2024, having garnered recognition and critical acclaim from major international film festivals and film critics.
The Oscars will announce a list of all the competing films in December 2023, ahead of the 96th Academy Awards scheduled for March 2024.
This is an unfolding event and this list will be updated as more African countries announce their selected films.
Helena Olori is a talented multimedia journalist, she enjoys staying abreast with latest happenings in the film industry and what makes the movie business tick. Connect with her on Instagram @heleena_olori or email@example.com