This is going to be Nollywood’s third submission at the Oscars, CJ Obasi’s ‘Mamiwata’ for the 2024 The Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars.
Given that the Oscars has been an annual event since 1929, and Nollywood only came into existence in 1992, it is no mean feat for Nigerian movie industry to be making a third submission already in its 31 years of existence. It also goes to show that Nollywood has come of age and has started taking its craft more seriously.
Nigeria’s first submission at the Oscars, which was, of course, in the category of Best International Feature Film, was Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ in 2019. Lionheart created quite a buzz in its days being one of the first, if not the first Nollywood movie to make great success on Netflix. Imagine the disappointment of Nigerian movie aficionados who had been rooting for Lionheart, when it was announced on November 4 of that year that Lionheart had been disqualified given that majority of film’s dialogue was in English with few scenes in Igbo Language. The backlashes that followed the announcement was most likely why the Nigerian Oscar Selection Committee announced that AMPAS would allow films that are primarily in Pidgin English to be eligible for submission.
The second Oscar submission from Nollywood came the next year; ‘The Milkmaid’, a Desmond Ovbiagele production that was made in Hausa Language. But it was not nominated at the end of the day.
Note that The Academy Awards, mainly known as the Oscars, are awards for artistic and technical merit for the film industry, presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy’s voting membership.
It is obviously a global phenomenon that all the who is who in the creative industry from all over the world anticipate with nostalgia like a virgin bride anticipates her husband on their first night.
In view of the 2024 Oscars (97th), Nollywood has a new submission in CJ Obasi’s ‘Mami wata’ and hopes are high that it would triumph where its predecessors failed. There is an Igbo saying that has it that ‘there is always a tendency for something to click the third time.’
Already, Mami wata has won the Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize in Cinematography. So, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
This is an allegory of Mami wata, a West African river goddess woven into a captivating movie worth the Oscars.
It is a Pidgin English and Fon film about the prevalent struggle between the traditions of the past and the pull of civilisation. The village of Iyi is at the mercy of Mama Efe, a priestess of Mami wata, the village deity. The people are disgruntled the deity is not attending to their problems as fast as they expect. And they call for a better alternative to her. One comes in the form of Jabi but it turns out a worse alternative.
Various themes that border on existential issues peculiar to post colonial Nigerian society are touched on and at the end of the day, a beautiful story was told.
So far, Mami wata has received the best of reviews from even Non Nigerian movie critics.
Lovia Gyarkie, a top movie critic, describing Mami Wata said, “In C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata, black becomes a canvas onto which the director paints a propulsive and vivid narrative. The shade takes on new roles and meanings in this feature about brewing ideological differences in a fictional West African village. Black shadows the waves crashing the shores as one character contemplates the fate of her people. Black sharpens the designs drawn in white paint on the faces of villagers. Black portends the sinister, the vengeful, the hopeful and the renewed faith swirling within an allegory for the slow creep of modernity.”
Robert Abele said of Mami Wata in Los Angeles Times, “Respecting the conjuring power of movies is all the devotion that’s required to fall under the spell cast by Obasi’s stark, roiling tale of spirit-world mysteries and all-too-human machinations, filmed in an evocatively dense monochromatic palette.”
According to Josh Kupecki in Austin Chronicle; “Mami Wata is a marvel to behold and Obasi throws in enough curveballs to this familiar story to keep you off-kilter.”
Matt Zoller Seitz, a top movie critic, did not mince words when he said, “The film casts a spell, and the spell persists till the end.”
Time will tell if the committee that sees to who wins the Oscars would agree with all these glowing remarks about Mamiwata. However way it goes, I am very certain Nollywood has already positioned itself for making movie worthy of the Oscars every year. Of a truth, Nollywood has come of age.