bold choices

Could one of these 8 films win Africa an Oscar in 2023?

By Wilfred Okiche

Posted on December 16, 2022 10:43

 © The Oscar statue on April 5, 2022. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
The Oscar statue on April 5, 2022. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) invites various countries to make their submissions specifically for the award for best international feature film. Eight African countries- including first timers Uganda- have successfully made submissions ahead of next year’s 95th Academy Awards. Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa were unable to submit any entries.

African countries have had a spotty record at the Oscars, having managed to score nine nominations in this particular category with only three wins. Back when the category was still called Best Foreign Language film, Algeria triumphed in 1969 – for the first time – at the 41st Academy Awards with Z, a political satire. Z, directed by Greek-French veteran Costa-Gavras, was shot in Algeria, but was really about a very Greek affair.

Côte d’Ivoire was triumphant in 1976 with Black and White in Color, an anti-war black comedy. The directing debut of French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud is set during the World War 1 French invasion of the German colony of Kamerun. It wasn’t until 2005 that Tsotsi, Gavin Hood’s adaptation of the Athol Fugard novel, would claim the prize for South Africa.

Following the selections and submission process, these are the eight films that are hoping to represent Africa this season. The 15-film shortlist will be announced on 21 December 2022, and final five nominees will be announced alongside the other categories on 24 January 2023.

Algeria: Our Brothers

Three-time Oscar nominee – all in the international film category – Rachid Bouchareb continues his career-long exploration of French colonial legacy in Algeria with Our Brothers. Based on the real events of December 1986, the crime drama details the challenges of a police inspector attempting to investigate the murder of a French-Algerian student by a drunken cop on the same night students are protesting for higher education reforms.

Cameroon: The Planter’s Plantation

The Planter’s Plantation is a musical drama film directed by Dingha Young Eystein and featuring Nigerian superstar Nkem Owoh in a supporting role. Set in the 60s, the film chronicles the efforts of Enanga (Nimo Loveline) a formidable young lady, who fights tooth and nail to preserve a plantation willed to her late father by a departing member of the colonial government. The film is billed as an interrogation of neo-colonisation in the region.

Kenya: TeraStorm

Set in a fictional Nairobi city, a group of African superheroes join forces in an attempt to defeat an ancient wizard who threatens to destroy the earth with a powerful artefact. TeraStorm, a computer-animated sci-fi film, is a bold choice by Kenya. The film, which is written, directed and animated by Andrew Kaggia, is as an aesthetic roughness that might make it a tough sell to Academy members used to sleek programming from the likes of Pixar.

Morocco: The Blue Caftan

Of all the films on this list, Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan is the one expected to go the farthest after debuting at the Cannes Film Festival. Flirting with a topic still considered taboo in many conservative societies, The Blue Caftan queries the limits of honour and hidden obsessions while weighing them against the primal need for freedom and sexual liberation. The quiet routine of an older couple is jolted when a new apprentice arrives at their small business.

Senegal: Xalé

Veteran director Moussa Sène Absa is in fine form with this rich, colourful saga that is centred on a 15-year-old student and her twin brother, who dream of a better life in Europe. When their grandmother arranges for an aunt to wed an unlikeable relative, the results of this forced union bear consequences for the twins.  Visually arresting and gorgeously stylised, Xalé blends narrative styles and traditions with verve, running the gamut from local folklore to traditional musical and Western-inspired soap opera.

Tanzania: Tug of War

A ravishing period romance set against the backdrop of colonial-era Zanzibar in the 1950s Tug of War is an adaptation of the eponymous award-winning novel written by Shafi Adam Shafi, one of the leading lights of Swahili literature. Directed by Amil Shivji, Tug of War is the star-crossed tale of Denge (Gudrun Columbus Mwanyika) – a young Mswahili revolutionary and Yasmin (Ikhlas Gafur Vora), a rebellious Indian-Zanzibari woman fleeing an arranged marriage. Their romance blossoms against the backdrop of a political uprising.

Tunisia: Under the Fig Trees

In this radiant feature-length debut by French-Tunisian filmmaker Erige Sehiri, the world is condensed in a summer day for a group of fig harvesters doing gig work in an orchard whose corrupt management seeks to exploit them. Sehiri’s camera is ever-present and roving, trailing the mostly non-professional cast of intergenerational actors, documentary style as they go about their work, worry about their lives, gossip, fight, settle differences and try to game the system.

Uganda: Tembele

Uganda’s first-ever submission for the Oscars is Morris Mugisha’s award winning Tembele, a drama about the eponymous character, a garbage man played by Patriq Nkakalukanyi. Tembele is a mentally ill garbage man who begins to lose grip on reality following the death of his infant son. The film observes how this loss affects not only Tembele but everyone around him. According to director Mugisha, Tembele suggests “that it is OK for a man to cry and vulnerability is no crime especially if you’re hurting”.

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