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Oscars Drama: Nollywood Is The Weapon Fashioned Against Itself
For weeks now, the messy activities of the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee (NOSC) has put the industry in a quagmire. But there is nothing new about the drama. Is Nollywood ready to do better?
There are several markers of an industry’s progress — market size, positive perception, endorsements and validation among other things. In the film industry, this means that your local audience buys your product regularly, almost obsessively, and looks forward to your next slate of projects. Also, there is a healthy stream of support from within and outside the local film industry and awards that, however lopsided, sooth the creative egos of some players.
In Nollywood, the local market size is shrinking and while one can argue that there is way more international presence for the industry, it is not converting into a very rewarding financial experience as it ought to and there is still so much respect left to gain. On the part of validation, the Oscars is the pinnacle for players in the film industry and the Nigerian film industry still cannot get a leg in.
The first time the Nigerian film industry submitted a film for Oscars consideration, it was sent back home for not meeting the foreign language criteria.
While Nollywood has submitted only two times (2019 and 2020), South Africa has 18 submissions. In 2020, when Parasite won the Oscars and broke all records, it was assumed that perhaps, they would be a renaissance back home, a yearning and a template for the filmmakers in Nigeria to see what is possible, what had become possible.
So, when the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee (NOSC) came into the picture, filmmakers, and even the audience, dared to see a direct pipeline, a way for the films that tell our stories to make it to stages where the greatest films have been celebrated. But the concept is a farce now, which is not out of character. It is 2022 and Nigeria does not have an Oscars submission nor are there hopes that there would be one soon.
The situation was not caused by a lack of trying on the part of the filmmakers but a clear breakdown of order, which has become almost synonymous with Nollywood’s operations. This year, three films were found worthy enough to enter the conversation for Oscars submission — Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman by the late Biyi Bandele and produced by Mo Abudu; Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo and the Femi Adebayo-produced Agesinkole (King of Thieves).
Recall that the committee is comprised of the Chairperson Chineze Anyaene-Abonyi and other members including Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Mildred Okwo, Ego Boyo, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Stephanie Linus, Shaibu Husseini, Bruce Ayonote, Adetokunbo Odubawo, Izu Ojukwu, Moses Babatope, Yibo Koko, Meg Otanwa, Kenneth Gyang, and John Njamah.
As the film community waited in anticipation of the film that would eventually make the cut, the NOSC announced, in a poorly written statement, that no Nigerian film would be submitted. Specifically, the committee said that the majority of its members had voted “do not submit”, a voting category that some members said was strange to them.
In the statement, the NOSC relayed its decision without stating why or recommending further actions to filmmakers. In the weeks following the decision, there has been ugly outcome after ugly outcome — some members have resigned, filmmakers have been accused of lobbying, side talks have turned the matter on its head, the Oscars has intervened; and most recently, the committee members, in a leaked video, could be seen receiving strong, high-handed and rude reprimand from the leadership.
What is happening in the committee is not strange in Nollywood terms and it is operating on the ethos, or lack of, that the industry is fraught with. Almost every kind of success in this industry is determined by industry players' ability to align with winning factions and blocs. From cinema release dates, time slots, partnerships and even distribution deals.
The lack of structure, disrespect for the principle of things, reliance on the cloak of ambiguity and absence of decorum have previously been accepted as modus operandi and as long as it favoured certain people, it was fair and life moved on. Now it is the Oscars and some of the architects of the dysfunction are being bitten by the system they failed to create and adhere to has bore children and is now a hydra-headed monster manifesting several ways to destroy their dreams.
It is no news that Nollywood is run by power blocs, who despite not fleshing out their own value propositions and committing to learning, have placed themselves above others in the industry, reigning as supreme beings. This has come to bite the people involved as underneath the NOSC drama is the clash of strong egos and hurt over a bloc seemingly assuming victory over the other.
It is important to remember that the committee can decide that no film is eligible and it has done so in the past. The public was not dragged into those voting processes because the filmmakers whose films were considered are not part of the industry heavyweight category.
The messiness of the 2022 debacle is pronounced by the weight of the blocs clashing against each other. It is easy to look at this and assume that it is a rarity. But it isn't. This is classic Nollywood where vetoes fly from corner to corner and relative peace has been held by the fact that previous vetoes did not necessarily clash with the interests of the lords.
The NOSC drama is what happens when you break down a system without regard for process and the impact on overall industry growth, continue to benefit from the system’s dysfunction and expect that when it is your turn, miracles will happen.
Everything the NOSC has become is a reflection of what the industry has always allowed. The question is if the industry wants to course correct or wait for another implosion. First, the current situation is a national disgrace that not only reflects poorly on the industry but the entire country.
If the NOSC cannot maintain decorum or accountability, then what is the point of its existence? For those who argue that this brings us back to square one with no direct Oscars submission pipeline, clutch your pearls as tightly as you can because this embarrassment is worse than square one.
Secondly, to rebuild the structure, clarity should be employed as the bedrock and key questions must be answered openly — What is the mandate of the committee? What is the structure? What is the voting procedure? What are the rules guiding submission? What is lobbying? What are the rules regarding decorum? What are the rules around communicating the committee’s decisions? Does the chairperson have dictatorial powers or is the committee governed by democracy? How should filmmakers whose films are being considered behave? What makes a film even qualified for consideration? Every self-respecting organization and structure has considered these and does not take it likely.
One can only hope that this debacle forces everyone to go to the drawing board where stakeholders can ask themselves critical questions, give honest feedback devoid of worthless sentiments and chart better courses in key areas. If the industry does not, it will continue to be the weapon fashioned against itself.
You can watch the leaked meeting video making the rounds here.