Two years ago, “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho called out American audiences. His charge? Americans don’t know enough about movies outside their own borders.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles,” he said, while accepting a Golden Globe award for his film, “you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Now, Americans are seemingly consuming more international art than ever before. After winning at the Golden Globes, “Parasite” went on to win the biggest award in Hollywood: best picture at the Academy Awards. Some of Netflix’s most-watched shows, like “Lupin” or “Squid Game” are from outside the US, dubbed or subtitled in English. And some of this year’s most lauded films were international offerings — Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” and Japan’s “Drive My Car.”
Yet one continent has seemingly found itself outside the buzz: Africa. The continent has been producing more movies than ever, with 12 countries submitting films to the Oscars in 2021 — a record. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s commercial film industry, “Nollywood,” only just began to emerge in the 1990s — and is now considered almost as large as Hollywood.
But even as these movies are recognized abroad, recognition in the US has been slower to come. “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” for example, was Chad’s entry to this year’s Academy Awards for best international feature and screened at festivals all over the world, including at France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Still, for those in the US, the film was difficult to find until the distribution rights were finally purchased by MUBI, thus making it available to stream.
“Just like (cinema) is a big orchestra…I just want a place for everyone to play their own music in the big orchestra,” Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the director of “Lingui,” told CNN. “(African filmmakers) should be in the melody of the world.”
Hollywood puts Africa in a box
The issue, in part, is one of perceptions. Many Hollywood executives thought, and continue to think, that no one is interested in seeing films focused on Black and African people, said Moradewun Adejunmobi, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies African literature and pop culture.
She used the success of 2018’s “Black Panther” as an example. The film, part of a popular American superhero franchise, was expected to do well. But to make $1 billion worldwide in one month? Hollywood executives were taken aback, Adejunmobi said.
“It’s that lack of imagination, that lack of understanding, that a film looking at a Black-centered world could do well,” Adejunmobi said.