Oscars' 'Parasite' Big Lesson For Nigeria's Nollywood

Bong Joon Ho poses in the press room with the awards for best director for "Parasite" and for best international feature film for "Parasite" from South Korea at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Parasite is getting all the accolades after a blistering night at the Oscars. The South Korean film was the biggest winner at the awards ceremony on Sunday – picking up four awards, including a historical one for ‘Best Picture’. The film scooped the awards for ‘Best Original Screenplay’, ‘Best International Feature Film’, while director Bong Joon Ho also won in the ‘Best Director’ category.

It is now the first non-English film and first South Korean film to win best picture at the Academy Awards. Only 11 non-English language films have ever been nominated in the category.

But what did the cast and crew of Parasite do right?

The language and dialogue in Parasite is predominantly Korean. This is where Nollywood needs to learn.

Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ was controversially disqualified during the review process for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The reason for the axe was that ‘Lionheart’ has too much dialogue in English to fit in that category. If Miss Nnaji’s film ticked all the right boxes, it would have been up against Parasite.

Filmmaker Chris Ihidero said at the height of the controversy, “So, the Oscars will be what gets our ‘big’ films to use local languages more? What can’t God do? We are going to move from “No vernacular in my film” to “Make sure the dialogue is at least 50% in Nigerian languages! I want to win Oscar!”

Nollywood’s refusal to incorporate more of its local languages in its bigger budget productions might make the industry less competitive in positions like this. Majority of Nigeria’s biggest productions, if not all, have primarily English dialogues, confining the local languages to much less robust productions.

Recent movies such as Kemi Adetiba’s “King of Boys’ and Ramsey Nouah’s directorial debut, ‘Living In Bondage: Breaking Free’ have earned praise for their storylines. But Nollywood can do a lot better.

Parasite is hailed for telling a compelling story that centers around class conflict and social inequality. The film thrives as being a reflection of modern capitalism. Many of the most successful movies across the world tell stories that tug at the heart. While there are many low budget short films with great storytelling, most of the Nollywood movies backed by huge cinema figures have their storylines warped around unconvincing romantic dramas, as well as bland, cheesy comedies that shouldn’t have seen the light of day.

As Parasite’s producer Kwak Sin Ae said when the cast and crew excitedly rushed to the Oscar stage to receive their awards last night, “writing a script is always such a lonely process. We never write to represent our countries.”

Director Bong Joon Ho also said, “When I was young and studying cinema there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is that the most personal is the most creative.”

Nollywood needs to be bold in telling its story. And in its usage of local language. There are not many countries with as many diverse cultures as Nigeria in the world and Nollywood is in the best position to do that justice.

Bong Joon Ho’s win in the ‘Best Director’ category didn’t just happen by accident. It came as a result of deliberate attention to detail and desire for perfection.

This was evident in production designer Lee Ha-jun’s description of the length his team went to capture important moments in the film.

“The sun’s direction was a crucial point of consideration while we were searching for outdoor lots. We had to remember the sun’s position during our desired time frame and determine the positions and sizes of the windows accordingly … Before building the set, the DP [director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo] and I visited the lot several times to check the sun’s movement at each time, and we decided on the set’s location together,” Lee explained.

It’s always easy for critics and the audience to spot shoddily executed scenes and shots in many Nollywood movies. And there needs to be a more deliberate standard and focus on aesthetics by its cinematographers.

Nollywood has so far done an impressive job with its limited resources, but it needs to take a hard, critical look at itself if it so desires to stand on the world stage and compete for the biggest honours.