Earlier this month, the Academy announced that 93 countries submitted films for its International Feature Film category at the 92nd Academy Awards. Ten of these came from Africa, a new record for the continent.
It remains to be seen whether any of these titles will be shortlisted in order to make the final list of five nominees. Of the 10 films, Senegal’s “Atlantics,” Mati Diop’s 2019 Cannes Grand Prix winner acquired by Netflix, probably has the strongest chance.
The last time a film representing an African country won this category was South Africa’s “Tsotsi,” by Gavin Hood, at the 78th Oscars in 2006. It’s one of just three wins from African countries, which also include Algeria’s “Z” by Costa-Gavras in 1969 and the Ivory Coast’s “Black and White in Color” (“La Victoire en chantant”) by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 1976.
In 2018, eight submissions included African first-timers Mozambique (“The Train of Salt and Sugar”) and Senegal’s “Félicité,” which even made the shortlist. In 2019, Africa delivered another eight submissions including two countries that submitted a film for the first time: Malawi sent “The Road to Sunrise,” and Niger sent “The Wedding Ring.”
The last time a film representing an African country received a nomination was Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” which was Mauritania’s submission for the 87th Academy Awards in 2014.
The gradual increase in submissions over the years fits the western narrative of “Africa rising,” but that only tells part of the story. The history of cinema in Africa is very complex, and one that hasn’t entirely liberated itself from colonial trappings. Most top African films that compete on the international stage are financed and effectively controlled by European companies.
Still, African inroads toward an institution like the Oscars represent change. It’s also aided by efforts like Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, which teamed with the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers earlier this year to create the African Film Heritage Project. It’s designed to locate, restore, and preserve 50 African cinema classics and make them available to audiences around the world.
“I can’t tell you how really deeply inspired and excited I am by African films; ‘Yeelen,’ ‘Touki Bouki,’ ‘Trances,’ ‘La Noire De…,’ ‘Al Momia,’ ‘Bamako’,” said Scorsese in a statement. “I keep going back to these pictures and each time the experience is richer. My appreciation just keeps growing for the talent, the power, and the wisdom of African cinema.”
Africa submitted a film for Oscar consideration for the first time in 1958 with “Cairo Station,” from celebrated Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. Although the film didn’t make the final cut, it signaled Egypt’s dominance over other African countries when it comes to Oscar submissions; Algeria is a distant second place. Now, other nations are starting to make an impact of their own.
The upcoming 92nd Academy Awards break the record for number of submissions to the category, with 94 (93 were accepted; Uganda did not qualify). Notably, three countries submitted a film for the first time, including two African countries: Ghana sent “Azali,” and Nigeria sent “Lionheart.”
This year’s submissions from the African continent include:
— Algeria: “Papicha,” Mounia Meddour, director
— Egypt: “Poisonous Roses,” Ahmed Fawzi Saleh, director
— Ethiopia: “Running Against the Wind,” Jan Philipp Weyl, director
— Ghana: “Azali,” Kwabena Gyansah, director
— Kenya: “Subira,” Ravneet Singh (Sippy) Chadha, director
— Morocco: “Adam,” Maryam Touzani, director
— Nigeria: “Lionheart,” Genevieve Nnaji, director
— Senegal: “Atlantics,” Mati Diop, director
— South Africa: “Knuckle City,” Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, director
— Tunisia: “Dear Son,” Mohamed Ben Attia, director
Nominations for the 92nd Oscars will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020.