The decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in November to disqualify Genevieve Nnaji’s “Lionheart” from the international feature Oscar race marred an otherwise promising awards season for Africa, which still saw its total number of submissions reach a record-breaking nine. The ensuing controversy brought filmmakers, including Ava DuVernay, into the fray, and prompted the Academy to defend its decision on the grounds that entries must be mostly filmed in a language other than English, Nigeria’s official language.
But the dust-up also served to underscore broader structural challenges for African filmmakers dreaming of Oscar glory. Production across the continent has been steadily rising, with such debutantes as Niger, Malawi and Mozambique recently entering the awards race. Yet most countries lack either the financial resources to mobilize a selection committee — an often expensive proposition — or the political resolve to pursue an award that many perceive as being about and for Western audiences. Consider that it wasn’t until last year that Senegal, the birthplace of post-colonial African cinema, submitted its first entry for Oscar consideration.