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South African Connections at 95th Academy Awards

The 95th Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled to take place on 12 March, 2023 representing the pinnacle of awards season. Since it's 9th ceremony, South Africa has had its share of Oscar hopefuls with a handful of nominations, including Darryl Roodt's Yesterday, Neill Blomkamp's District 9 and a few nominations for Charlize Theron with North Country and Bombshell. The nominations are welcome and have been trickling in since South African born British actor Basil Rathbone kicked things off in 1937 but there's nothing quite so rousing as the film talents who represent their country when they accept a golden statuette on the big night.

Here are our winners: Ted Moore won Best Cinematography for A Man of all Seasons, Ronald Harwood won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Pianist, Charlize Theron's powerful performance in Monster, Gavin Hood's Tsotsi, Margaret Sixel for Best Editing of Mad Max: Fury Road as well as the incredible documentary, My Octopus Teacher. While it's been some time since one of our films have made it through to the final stages of the Best Foreign Film competition, now known as Best International Film, our country continues to outperform its budgets with significant and substantial films from inspired and talented filmmakers.

South African Connections at Oscars

This year, South Africa has several connections to the 95th Academy Awards ceremony:

Oliver Hermanus, director of Oscar-nominated film Living

Oliver Hermanus first gained international recognition for his film Skoonheid, better known as Beauty, which became the first Afrikaans film to be selected for competition at Cannes. His coming-of-age war drama, Moffie, premiered at the Venice Film Festival and came to serve as his calling card until he directed his first international feature in Living, an adaptation of the 1952 Japanese film Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa.

Hermanus remembers getting a really strange call, but then leaned into the process, connecting with the film's themes through his own experience of growing up in a country still recovering from Apartheid, controlled by systems of degradation. This is his first Oscar-nominated film, which garnered nominations for Best Screenplay for Kazuo Ishiguro and Best Actor for its star - legendary British actor, Bill Nighy.

Charlbi Dean, star of Triangle of Sadness

Born in Cape Town, one of Charlbi Dean's first film roles was playing Amanda in the high school growing pains comedy drama Spud, which she reprised in Spud 2: The Madness Continues. She had a 9-episode role as Syonide in the series Black Lightning before landing the role of Yaya in Ruben Östlund's second consecutive Palm d'Or winner, Triangle of Sadness. Playing a plucky model and influencer, her star-making performance in this critically-acclaimed, much-discussed and Oscar-nominated film was to be her last.

Struck down in her prime, the 32-year-old actor and model died from a sudden and unexpected illness. Having had her spleen removed due to a blunt trauma to her torso, this may have resulted in her body not being able to fight off bacterial sepsis, after a rare infection ultimately led to her untimely death in New York City.

No Official 'Best International Feature' Submission from South Africa

The National Film and Video Foundation, better known as the NFVF, is an government-funded agency that oversees development, production, marketing and distribution of films as well as research to better inform the South African film industry. Charged with hosting the South African Film and Television Awards or SAFTAs, they're also responsible for selecting a South African film to submit to compete for Best International Feature at the Oscars.

The selection of nine films, shown at local and international film festivals, included: 1960, Jewel, Meet Melusi, Thando, The Fragile King, Time Spent with Cats is Never Wasted, Umbrella Men, Wild is the Wind and Stiekuyt. Unfortunately, according to News24, an NFVF spokesperson says the majority of them did not meet "the stringent Oscars selection criteria for the respective category". Of the few that did, the independent selection committee decided that the films "did not appropriately represent marginalised communities".

South Africa hasn't skipped over an Oscar film submission in 15 years, which has obviously caused great anger and consternation at the lack of transparency among those films and filmmakers who didn't make the cut. The NFVF isn't willing to share the names of the experienced industry professionals who served on the selection panel and hasn't provided filmmakers with any feedback as to why their submissions failed or how their representation of "marginalised communities" was not up to scratch. While the committee cite that it wasn't to do with films being good enough but rather the selection criteria, it just doesn't seem like enough of an excuse. Maybe the Oscar submission criteria have changed drastically in recent years? However, the NFVF's track record doesn't bode well, when you consider that several of their previous Oscar submissions failed to land a Best Picture nomination at our local SAFTAs awards ceremony.

No African Films in the Running at this Year's Oscars

Following on from the NFVF's strange decision as well as an equally controversial "No Film Is Eligible" vote in Nigeria, perhaps more red tape has caused other African nations to be more reluctant about submissions. More than half the film has to be in a language other than English and films are required to have a theatrical run of at least seven days. Still recovering from the economic affects of the pandemic, one can also imagine a lack of funding may have hampered and delayed productions, which could have been impacted by an overall go-slow in terms of filmmaking or a downturn in quality.

This year, The Blue Caftan from Morocco's Maryam Touzani was the only film selected from the continent with many expecting Tunisia's Under The Fig Trees to get a nod after earning major praise and acclaim. The last time an African film won this category was in 2005 with South Africa's official submission Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood. However, in 90 years of this category, Africa has only won three times in total.