'Lionheart': Meet Nigeria's first representative at the Oscars

Genevieve Nnaji directed and acted in 'Lionheart',  Nigeria's first representative at the Oscars [YouTube/MPM Premium]
  • Genevieve Nnaji's directorial debut is representing Nigeria at the 2020 oscars.
  • This marks the first time a Nollywood movie has made it to the prestigious awards.
  • Business Insider Sub Saharan Africa explores what this means for the Nigerian film industry.

Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut “Lionheart” has been chosen to represent Nigeria at the 2020 Oscars. 

It was selected by the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee (NOSC) to be submitted in the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category formerly known as the “Best Foreign Language Film”. 

This marks Nigeria’s first ever entry to the Oscars since the NOSC was formed back in 2014. 

Commenting on this year’s selection revealed on October 2, 2019, Chineze Anyaene, the chairman of the 12-person committee said, “While we cannot say that what we have are the best that Nigeria is capable of producing, it is heart-lifting to know that, from the strength of the entries received this year, we are truly ready for the Oscars. Filmmakers are gradually considering the Oscar rules, and I have no doubt that it is going to be more competitive, going forward.”

What is Lionheart about?

Produced by Chinny Onwugbenu, Chichi Nwoko, Nnaji, and directed by the latter, it tells the story of a young woman named Adaeze Obiagu (Nnaji), who steps up to run her sick father’s business under the supervision of her uncle (Nkem Owoh). 

Viewers watch on as Adaeze deals with family obligations and the challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominated industry while attempting to save the business from financial ruin.

The cast includes Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu, Kanayo .O. Kanayo, Chika Okpala, Kalu Ikeagwu, Sanni Mu’azu, Yakubu Mohammed, Ngozi Ezeonu, Peter Okoye (P-Square), and Chibuzor Azubuike (Phyno).

Lionheart was acquired by Netflix on September 7, 2018, making it the first original Nollywood film to be bought by the American movie streaming platform. It was later released worldwide on Netflix on January 4, 2019, after a December 2018 theatrical release in Nigeria.

What does this mean for Nollywood?

This is proof that the Nigerian film industry, one of the world’s biggest film industries, is finally getting the global recognition it deserves. It's a great first step towards getting the world to see and appreciate the country's rich, beautiful and wonderful stories. 

The fact that Nigeria’s first entry to the Oscars is a Netflix Original means more foreign platforms could be motivated to invest in Nollywood. This is already happening with recent acquisitions from French media giant, Canal+ Group and China’s Startimes. More investments means more Nigerian stories get told, people get more jobs and the industry contributes more to the country’s GDP.

It is also a significant moment for the Oscars academy, which has been making an effort to be more representative since the #Oscarssowhite fiasco.

Lionheart joins a growing list of submissions from Africa. They are:

  • Algeria: Papicha (Mounia Meddour)
  • Egypt: Poisonous Roses (Fawzi Saleh)
  • Ethiopia: Running Against The Wind (Jan Philipp Weyl)
  • Ghana: Azali (Kwanbena Gyansah)
  • Kenya: Subira (Ravneet Chadha)
  • Morocco: Adam (Maryam Touzani)
  • Senegal: Atlantics (Mati Diop)
  • South Africa: Knuckle City (Jahmil XT Qubeka)
  • Tunisia: Dear Son (Mohamed Ben Attia)
  • Uganda: Kony, Order From Above (Steve T. Ayeny)

Any of these movies stand the chance of securing Africa’s first nomination in this category since Mauritania’s Timbuktu in 2015.

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