Oscars: overview of the submissions of the best African international films

History is not on the side of African filmmakers when it comes to Academy recognition.

In terms of international recognition, this week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced eligible feature films in the International Feature Films category for the 94th Academy Awards. Since the African continent first submitted a film for the Oscar in 1958, with “Cairo Station” by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, the number of African submissions for the Oscar for best international film seems to have stabilized at an average about 10 per year. Eight films were submitted for the 2019 awards; 10 for 2020; and 12 for 2021, which marked a record. Ten submissions are under consideration for the next ceremony in 2022.

The history of cinema on the African continent is expected to be complex and brief – unlike other art forms, notably music and literature, of which there are decades, if not centuries, of rich history. (See Malian researcher and professor in New York University’s Department of Film Studies, Manthia Diawara’s comprehensive 1992 account of African cinema during the first half of the 20th century, “African Cinema: Politics and Culture “.)

Due to restrictive colonialist structures and a Francophone/Anglophone divide, Africans have not always been able to tell their own stories in film. Although to doubt the prevalence of ingenuity and creativity on the continent would be a criminally absurd move. And that progress continues to be made is undeniable.

Today, African cinema is not entirely free from the grip of its former colonizers, because the majority of films strong enough to compete on the international scene are financed and effectively controlled by European interests. But change is in the air. Where is it? The “Africa Rising” narrative (invented by a non-African of course), primarily a socio-economic concept, has prevailed over the past decade, even though repression rightly insists on the reductionist character of the notion, in particularly given the continued grip of Western countries across the world. the continent, despite any perceived decline.

The “cinema problem” in many African countries can be reduced to a lack of infrastructure, coming from apathetic governments and even private companies, when it comes to cinema. Filmmaking is an expensive practice and, as with any investment, the path to returns must be clear. Few people are willing to take the risk, especially when there are plenty of more reliable opportunities to exploit.

And so Africa continues to “rise” cinematographically, but gradually. Quantitative data is a hodgepodge, but one measure is the international recognition of the work created. There is the argument that continental cinema does not need to be legitimized by Western order, but should instead insist on being enjoyed on its own terms, just like other expressions of African creativity, especially music and dance, which have traveled widely without compromise, and have even been appropriated. It is certainly a powerful argument and a plausible scenario, but one that will be a challenge to see realized in an increasingly interconnected world still grappling with the lingering effects of colonialism.

It’s a labyrinthine discussion that simply cannot be summarized here.

“Casablanca beats”

Wild Bunch International

The last time a film representing an African country received a nomination was Kaouther Ben Hania’s ‘The Man Who Sold His Skin’ representing Tunisia at the 93rd awards ceremony earlier this year . The last time a film depicting an African country won the category was South Africa’s “Tsotsi,” by Gavin Hood, at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006. It was one of three total wins for the continent, with “Z” by Costa-Gavras (Algeria) in 1969, and “Black and White in Color” (Ivory Coast) by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 1976. That all three were made by white filmmakers , speaks again of remnants of colonialism and incomplete perceptions of the continent that continue to be encroaching.

Moreover, the countries of the north, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, have historically fared much better than the sub-Saharan countries (AKA “black Africa”), if only because there has a longer history of cinema in the northern region. Of the 10 African films nominated for the Oscar for Best International Film since its inception (previously known as the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), half featured Algeria alone, one from Tunisia and one from Mauritania. This means that an overwhelming majority of 70% of African applicants come from countries in the North.

Although nominations are not expected for another two months, this year’s submissions favor sub-Saharan regions, which account for 60% of nominations, thanks to newcomers such as Somalia, which are submitting for the first time, and countries still relatively new to awards season, including Malawi, who submitted for only the second time, after Shemu Joyah’s ‘The Road to Sunrise’ for the 2019 Oscars. in history) entered a film two years in a row.

No specific theme or genre dominates. On the contrary, it is a rather remarkable list of films in the sense that, unlike previous years, several of them are not necessarily weighed down by issues considered to be continent-specific, or country-specific, or preoccupied by outside perceptions, as films from the continent that trips (mostly funded by European companies) have often been.

But a shift seems to be afoot, especially as more and more countries get in on the game. For example, Somalia has entered “The Gravedigger’s Wife”, which tells the story of a gravedigger who must collect funds to pay for the operation of his gravely ill wife; Morocco’s “Casablanca Beats,” a take on the popular teacher-inspire-student subgenre, follows a group of teenagers at a cultural center who are encouraged by a new instructor, a failed musician, to break free from the weight of tradition and to express themselves with music; and Tunisia’s “Golden Butterfly” is a fantasy drama about the relationship between a policeman in the past and a young boy he meets by chance.

Certainly, pressing issues of socio-political and economic importance will likely (and should) continue to inspire African storytellers, even as promising filmmakers born into a virtually borderless world break with a tradition that pioneers of African cinema like Ousmane Sembene , Paulin Vieyra, Med Hondo and Djibril Diop Mambéty were fed. Variety is certainly welcome.

It remains to be seen if any of the top 10 international film submissions below will be shortlisted and eventually move on to the final list of five nominees. Of the 10 films, “Lingui, the sacred bonds” of Chad directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, and “Casablanca Beats” (Morocco) by Nabil Ayouch, probably have the best chances, if only because there has a greater notoriety of each filmmaker, both Cannes Regulars of the Film Festival, and for each title, the two Cannes 2021 selections.

The shortlist of 15 films will be announced on Tuesday December 21, 2021, followed by nominations on Tuesday February 8, 2022.

Here are the 10 African films submitted for consideration:

– Algeria, “Heliopolis” by Djaâfar Gacem
– Cameroon, “Hidden Dreams” by Ngang Romanus
– Chad, “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds” by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
– Egypt, “Souad” by Ayten Amin
– Kenya, Gilbert Lukalia’s “Rescue Mission”
– Malawi, “Fatsani: A Tale of Survival” by Gift Sukez Sukali
– Morocco, “Casablanca Beats” by Nabil Ayouch
– Somalia, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
– South Africa, “Barakat” by Amy Jephta
– Tunisia, the “Golden Butterfly” by Abdelhamid Bouchnak

The 94th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 27, 2022 and will be televised live on ABC.

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