Recent industry analysis has revealed that outside of Africa, audiences and streaming services generally disregard the thousands of films made in Africa each year.
Tanzanian film “Vuta N’Kuvute” (Swahili for “Tug of War”) has generated a buzz of excitement after being entered for an Oscar for best international film.
History, however, suggests that Africans hoping for the continent’s first win at the Academy Awards since 2006 would do well to temper their hopes with realism.
The producers describe the movie as a “coming-of-age political drama about love and resistance set in the final years of British colonial Zanzibar.”
Set in the 1950s, the film has a compelling, if not entirely original, plot about romance across cultures during racial segregation.
The film has garnered accolades within and outside Africa, including best feature film at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, winner of the special jury prize at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Tanit d’Or at Tunisia’s prestigious Carthage Film Festival.
If “Vuta N’Kuvute” were to walk away with an Oscar, it would be a feat Africa has not managed since “Tsotsi” — a South African film about a young thug who discovers a baby in the back seat after he steals a car — won the accolade in 2006. Moreover, it was the first African film not made in French to do so.
Industry data has shown that the Academy Award for Best International Film, previously known as the Best Foreign Language film, has gone to an African production only three times since its inception in 1948, in a category dominated by Europe.
Two of the three African winners were French co-productions with former colonies Algeria and the Ivory Coast, which benefited from the strong influence of the French film lobby in Hollywood.
It is worth noting that nearly all of the films about Africa that have enjoyed Oscar glory have been Hollywood productions, such as the 1994 American animated musical drama “The Lion King,” which was set in a fictional kingdom of lions in Africa.
Industry film critics believe African films will always need more funding, collaboration or technical support from Western institutions to garner global attention and nominations.
Market and consumer data company Statista says Nigeria, home to the booming Nollywood film industry, pushed out 2,500 films in 2020. Ghana produces 600 films annually, while Kenya and Tanzania each manage about 500. On average, Africa produces about 5,500 films per year.
But these productions have struggled to resonate with viewers abroad, particularly in the United States.