It was not fair. How could they reject his work because they didn't deem it worthy? Did they know much he poured into it? A bunch of people just decided his movie wasn't good enough to make an Oscars submission?
The above no doubt captures the feeling of award-winning filmmaker and actor Kunle Afolayan after the Nigeria Oscar Selection Committee rejected his Netflix film Anikulapo for award consideration.
It was not the first time a major Nollywood project had been rejected after it was deemed ineligible by the aforementioned committee.
In November 2019, it came as a major disappointment to fans of Nigerian film veteran Genevieve Nnaji when it was announced that her directorial debut Lionheart did not make the official Oscar submission after it was disqualified.
Per a report from The Hollywood Reporter, Lionheart was disqualified due to its predominantly English dialogue.
As part of its attempts to encourage foreign language films, the Academy is strict on films from different countries being made in the language of those nations.
In February 2021, another Nollywood feature, The Milkmaid (directed by Desmond Ovbiagele) was confirmed to be eligible for Oscar submission and was included among the contenders for the 93rd Academy Awards on January 30, 2022.
Unfortunately, The Milkmaid lost out in the Oscar run as it failed to make the first shortlist in the International Feature Film category.
It was yet another blow for Nollywood in its quest for the revered Oscar crown.
When Afolayan made the decision to helm Anikulapo as part of the movies on his Netflix release list, probably just a handful of people close to him knew it was his intention for it to clinch the ultimate prize that has continued to elude the Nigerian film industry.
It was not until he disclosed that the "whole world" had accepted his film that he revealed that it didn't make the Oscar submission.
Another injustice, right? I mean, this is THE Kunle Afolayan we are talking about.
The above begs the question; why are Nollywood films being rejected by the Oscar committee?
Are the movies we are churning out not good enough? Is there something else at play here? Or is this just a case of Nollywood needing to up its game?
Perhaps the best way to find answers is to examine the criteria for movies deemed eligible for Oscar submission in the Foreign Language Category.
A glance at the 'Special Rules for the Foreign Language Film Award' reveals that a foreign language film is a "feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track".
Further perusal reveals the technical requirements expected such as the format of the film, projector resolution, etc (nothing Nollywood can't meet up with if you ask me).
So, if the requirements are no issues then why has Nollywood been consistently denied the most prestigious movie prize?
This brings us to the quality of the films being submitted.
For the sake of comparison, let us take a look at a few of the films that have won Oscars in the same Foreign Language category.
Burnt By the Sun (1994)
Life is Beautiful (1997)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
The Sea Inside (2004)
The Lives of Others (2006)
One thing all the above have in common is that none of them is an African film. So, let's see films from the African continent that have won Oscars in the Foreign Language category.
The reader must be wondering why only one film is listed. Well, so am I. My research produced just that one result. Maybe there are others. If there are, where are they?
Where are the African Oscar winners? A very good question.
Nollywood has repeatedly been touted as the second largest (behind Bollywood) when it comes to the annual release of films.
Movieweb states that Nigeria's film industry produces almost 2,500 movies each year; a staggering feat worthy of admiration.
So, why is it that not a single Nollywood film has ever won an Oscar?
Maybe a quick examination of Tsotsi will give readers an insight as it is our only model being the only film from Africa to have won the award.
Directed by Gavin Hood, it chronicles six days in the life of a young Johannesburg gang leader.
Personally, I haven't seen it so I'm in no position to judge whether or not it is deserving of an Oscar. Thankfully, the next best thing is available to remedy that.
IMDB user reviews (a trusted source when it comes to movie reviews) are informative enough and should shine a light on critically looking at Tsotsi's quality.
On the platform, the film has a rating of 7.2/10 (a remarkable achievement considering how many users tear films to shreds there) and a four-star rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I think we can all agree from the above that Tostsi deserves the Oscar recognition.
I may not have seen it as I mentioned earlier but if there is one thing that most of the reviews have in common, it is the resonating story and the beautiful visuals.
Can Kunle Afolayan's Anikulapo be described with such words as "powerful", "touching", and "outstanding"?
I know how it feels to pour so much into a film project only to have it rejected because it was not deemed "worthy".
I know because I have ventured into filmmaking and my work has been criticised and taken apart.
Having seen Anikulapo, I don't think it can be and should be described with the aforementioned adjectives. That is not to say it is a bad film (see my review here).
While Nollywood is getting better when it comes to filmmaking (Afolayan, Kemi Adetiba, Niyi Akinmolayan, and the others are making sure of that), I feel it still has a long way to go before it wins an Oscar.
No doubt, the revolution in the industry is glaring for all to see; production value, cinematography, set design, and storytelling.
These are all well and good but there is still more work to be done. I honestly look forward to seeing a Nollywood feature take home the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
It might take a while but never say never.
Or maybe Afolayan is right. Maybe Anikulapo does deserve to be included in that list.
But then again, what do I know? I'm just one critic.