Will Nollywood ever get a Burna Boy moment? [Pulse Editor's Opinion]
The industry came close this year when 'The Milkmaid' sailed through the Oscars' international feature film eligibility stage.
As Nigerians took to different social platforms to celebrate, popular filmmaker, Charles Okpaleke, took to his Instagram handle with a pointer to Nollywood and the Oscars, a commentary that was probably on the lips of major industry influencers.
Understandably, international recognitions are celebrated as a measurement for global acceptance, one that every talent aspires to attain and this assertion is no different in the film industry.
In 2020, the Nigerian Oscar Selection Committee (NOSC) put forward the country's second Oscars submission. The picture, 'The Milkmaid' competed alongside 92 other submissions and sailed through the eligibility list before it ran out of luck.
Of course, there are several lessons to take home from Desmond Ovbiagele's campaign strategy, to lay bare the facts would mean to first admit that Nigeria's road to the Oscars is bumpy and presently uninspiring.
The industry is plagued by several challenges that limit its fighting chance. At the very least, Nollywood as an umbrella title describing film content produced by the Nigerian film industry is a point of contention.
When the umbrella title is not in contention, the censorship body, Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) and its archaic politicization of regulations have proven to be one of the industry's biggest deterrent.
Among the numerous list of challenges that 'The Milkmaid' faced, the undeniable loss it suffered in Nigeria was the most humiliating. Its producers fought tirelessly with the NFVCB to get the picture censored and screened in cinemas but met a brick wall. At the national level, the film's campaign was a colossal flop because the Censors board deemed a story about the country's reality - insurgency and security challenge, unfit for Nigerians.
An industry rid of a board that stipulates how a story should be told with the risk of facing blacklisting when contested will undoubtedly create an atmosphere where filmmakers can finally tell stories that can be universally appealing. An industry with a forward-thinking board is Nollywood's first step to winning at the Oscars.
With 'The Milkmaid', the obvious lackadaisical attitude towards the film's campaign was due to the bad blood bred from film influencers who had personal and business interests with some of the major contenders. The silent blacklisting of the film among actors, directors and producers due to loyalist sentiments explained why they did not show up for premieres or respond to the incessant call for support.
Unlike the music industry, the film industry relies heavily on local and international strongholds to even aspire to win at the Oscars. With film, it is harder to do things singlehandedly.
In 2020, media mogul, Mo Abudu announced that she made a move and succeeded in getting the Academy to qualify films made in pidgin English for the international feature film category.
Although NOSC debunked her claims, stating that the committee had taken this issue up with the Academy long before Abudu, the top production company's ambitious film 'Oloture' was disqualified by the committee. The selection process is certainly not under scrutiny here but is proof that a singlehanded push is a futile attempt.
Personal and government interests are only a few of the Nigerian film industry's primary limitations on its journey to the Oscars.
Not excluding the financial burden of sponsoring an Oscar campaign, another major restraint is how the industry has not quite created an enabling environment for non-comedies to thrive.
The average Nigerian audience wants to laugh and this has been exploited with the influx of comedies and romantic comedies. This strategy has been tested and trusted to guarantee commercial success.
Unfortunately, these comedies never really go beyond box office success. When a call for international awards come, the burden falls on films with socially relevant themes. This languorous style is shortchanging the industry and jeopardizing whatever chance for international acclaim.
If the comedy genre is to become Nollywood's identity, we might as well borrow a leaf from Morocco with its crime comedy submission 'The Unknown Saint' or Denmark's comedy drama submission 'Another Time'.
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