The Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) announced that CJ Obasi’s cinematic project, “Mami Wata,” has been chosen to represent Nigeria in the International Feature Film category for the 2024 Oscars. The announcement, made public this Sunday, has set the stage for a much larger acknowledgment of Nigerian cinema on the global platform.
Obasi’s “Mami Wata” weaves a compelling narrative, showcasing the story of a West African goddess and her diminishing influence in a struggling village, depicted with striking poignancy in a captivating black-and-white visual palette. Its premiere at the renowned Sundance Film Festival earlier this year was nothing short of a triumph, as it garnered a special jury prize, particularly applauding the film’s cinematography.
Expressing his profound gratitude and honour, CJ Obasi took to his social media handles, emphasising the significance of the film’s selection for the International Feature category. “This means something for the culture, and the new narrative about Nigerian cinema. We will live forever, but only through our art. Long live Nigerian cinema,” Obasi articulated, encapsulating the collective sentiment of pride and accomplishment within the Nigerian film community.
The genesis of “Mami Wata” dates back to 2016 when Obasi conceived the idea and embarked on the arduous journey of its development. Multiple drafts and immersive participation in script refinement labs were pivotal in sculpting the film’s powerful narrative. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Obasi delineated his ambition to create a hyper-stylized film, drawing inspiration from cinematic maestros like Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch. The characters of Prisca and Zinwe, integral to the film’s fabric, were a heartfelt tribute to Obasi’s late sisters, infusing the storytelling with a personal touch.
Mami Wata opened on September 8, 2023, with little fanfare, as the distributor, FilmOne Entertainment, made minimal marketing efforts. According to reports, FilmOne also couldn’t secure accessible, convenient showtimes for the Sundance winner, even though the company says the film presented an opportunity to support stories that push artistic boundaries.
Mami Wata’s opening weekend brought in an underwhelming 2.4 million naira. This paints an inaccurate picture of the acceptance of, and demand for, such films in Nigeria.
Among the esteemed production companies associated with “Mami Wata” are Obasi’s Fiery Film Company, Guguru Studios, Palmwine Media, Swiss Fund Visions Sud Est, and Ifind Pictures of France, reflecting the international collaborative effort that underpins the film’s remarkable vision and execution.
Despite poor outing in its cinemas at home, the critical reception of “Mami Wata” has been nothing short of resounding acclaim, with the film amassing a perfect 100 percent approval rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 29 reviews. The Hollywood Reporter has lauded it as “A vivid narrative and a dynamic study in colour,” a testament to the film’s evocative storytelling and visual finesse.
As “Mami Wata” sets its course for the Oscars, it not only represents a triumph for Nigerian cinema but also stands as a beacon of cultural representation and storytelling prowess, poised to captivate the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide.