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Nigeria at the Oscars – What is the Nigerian Oscar Selection Committee hiding from Nigerians?

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Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

Over the past few weeks, there have been various happenings on the Nollywood landscape. The ‘Lights Camera Africa Film Festival’, held its 9th edition and continues to prove to be the most cultural and art conscious film festival in Nigeria. The Africa Movie Academy Awards released nominations for its 15th Edition and poured numerous nominations onto Lara and the Beat – hereby exacerbating the trauma we experienced from watching the film last year. The Nigerian Oscar Selection Committee (NOSC or “the Committee”) announced that Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ would be Nigeria’s official ‘SUBMISSION’ to the Oscars.

Oh yes, and the Nollywood, ‘Filmmaker VS Film Critic‘, argument aired itself again… which I think is uninspired.

See, interesting past few weeks. All these happenings have kept social media (especially twitter) alive with arguments, opinions, and declarations.

Before I delve into Nigeria’s Oscar Selection, which is the crux of this post, I would like to state that a lot of the AMAA nominations were hilarious to behold. However, I have decided to wait till the winners are announced later this month to determine just how far south the Awards platform has gone. If we’re keeping it 100, its comical to see that two films, Kasala and Lionheart, did not feature anywhere on the AMAA nominations list, yet one of the films is our official submission to the Oscars. The only sensible explanation would be that both films were not submitted to the AMAA for consideration.  Maybe a certain individual who appears on the selection team for both awards would like to share some insight.

But this post is not really about the AMAA. It’s also not about whether King of Boys should have been selected over Lionheart as Nigeria’s official submission to the Oscars… personally I wouldn’t have selected either. This post is about what I consider a questionable process employed by the NOSC to select our official submission to the Oscars.

As some of you may be aware, the NOSC was inaugurated sometime in 2014 and tasked with reviewing Nigerian films with the view to select what movies to put forward as Nigeria’s official submission to the Oscars. Back in 2014 when the NOSC was formed, any film submitted by the committee would have been competing to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category.  However, in 2019, the category was renamed the Best International Feature Film award.

In this regard, potential submissions needed to have met specific criteria set by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (used interchangeably as the Academy or the Oscars hereafter). Some of the criteria include:

  • Theatrical release within a specific period.
  • Technical requirements including framing and sound specifications.
  • A condition that nontheatrical public exhibition must not precede theatrical distribution.
  • Language specifications. i.e. the film must be predominantly in a non-English language(s). However, it must be clearly subtitled.

Anyways, word on the street is that in the five years since the Committee was set up, no Nigerian feature film has met the conditions necessary for submission. While a review of the films released in Nigeria over the past 5 years might make this blanket declaration seem possible, it is quite appalling that this committee (whose members have slightly changed since it was first inaugurated) can just wake up after five years to tell us that it couldn’t find any film to submit for five years.

May I ask, what was the process on an annual basis for the 5 years since the committee was formed? What films were reviewed. Did the committee make any calls for submission during the five years? Did any filmmaker make any submissions that were considered and disqualified because they didn’t meet up? What exactly was going on these five years? It is not enough to be silent for so long and offer no official detailed explanations as a body.

Now let’s move on to the process employed for the selection this year. May I clearly state that it reeks of untrustworthy practices and our nature sometimes as Nigerians to not be transparent. This has sullied our submission which should only be seen as a step in the right direction for the Nigerian film industry.

Allow me to clarify. On 15 September 2019, news hit that the NOSC had informed a few filmmakers that their films had been shortlisted to be considered for submission as Nigeria’s representative at the Oscars. This news did not come from the NOSC but from one of the filmmakers who had been asked to submit their film. And, while I was excited to see that the Committee had woken up to its duties, I had some questions.

So, I reached out to the Committee seeking clarification on the following:

  • Was there an open call for submissions of films that met the criteria before some form of shortlisting was done or did the Committee review and arrive at a shortlist based on its review of films that met the criteria, then reach out to the filmmakers of these shortlisted films?
  • Based on information available, certain films had already been shortlisted. Would the Committee be sharing the list of the shortlisted films with the public?
  • Would the Committee also be carrying the general public along with the selection process? Before informing the public of the selected movie?
  • Is this a standing committee. Or will the Committee be reviewed annually?

After a long period of silence, I finally received feedback from the NOSC. However, the only feedback I received was a reference to a call for submission of films which was officially published on 18 September 2019 – three days after we already knew that some films had been shortlisted. Obviously, this raised more questions, and wonder as to why my other questions were left unanswered in their response e-mail. So I reached out again and was only met with silence.

You see, releasing a call for submission after already informing some shortlisted filmmakers to submit their films doesn’t necessarily pose a problem. If you read my first question above, I inquired if the committee reviewed films that opened in cinemas over the qualifying release period to determine a shortlist, then afterwards, asked the shortlisted filmmakers to provide copies of their films to carry out a proper selection process.  This clearly was not addressed in their response.

It would have been ideal for the NOSC to put out a clear call for submissions, maybe announce a longlist, then a shortlist before announcing the selected film (or just announce the considered films and the selected film).

However, the Committee could have also carry out an independent review of films that were released in cinemas to determine films that potentially met the criteria for submission to the Academy. Thereafter, the NOSC could have reached out to the filmmakers behind the shortlisted films to conclude its selection process.  But as I type, the only official communication from the NOSC on the actual selection process is that Lionheart was selected.

Can the Committee display any higher level of disregard for the Nigerian film loving public when it cannot even consider us worthy of knowing the films it considered for selection? Was there more than one film that met all technical and other criteria before the voting process revealed an eventual winner?

But it seem that we are a joke to them. Maybe we are, considering that the news of Lionheart’s submission sparked more debate on social media as to whether it deserved to be submitted over King of Boys and less inquiry as to what other films were even in the running at all.

But what is obvious to me is this, like a lot of other things in Nigeria, this Committee doesn’t believe it owes Nigerians much accountability. Apart from the selection criteria released by the Academy, we are clearly in the dark about the Committee’s process. They have provided us with the barest minimum of information. So as a lover of film I cannot even put together an argument as to the merits of the different options and why one or the other would make a great selection or if the selected film was a better option. Making these arguments on conjecture as to what other films were being considered is an absolute waste of my time.

Consequently, I urge the NOSC to do better in future. With great power comes great responsibility. We are watching, and we will keep watching to make sure that we don’t make a mockery of ourselves on the international stage.  There’s really no need to be shrouded in secrecy or to not be transparent in your dealings.

If you do a web search, you will see that the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) in South Africa called for submission of films with a deadline of 30 August 2019. You will also see that six films were submitted before one was selected. You will also see a justification for why the selected film was considered the best option from the pool.

Why do we have to make our own matters complicated? What secret is the NOSC guarding by cloaking its process? Why are they taking actions that are bound to breed rumors and arguments from grapevine gist? Why can’t we just be transparent? This is the same way we spoke out for years before box office information became publicly available in Nigeria.

Does the Committee not believe in its process?

We can do better. We should do better.

Nigeria at the Oscars – What is the Nigerian Oscar Selection Committee hiding from Nigerians?

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