Kenyans with a role in Oscars

Wanuri Kahiu. [File, Standard]

The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars have been the talk of the world this whole week. 

The night made history, from the slap by Will Smith across Chris Rock’s face to milestone wins by great artistes from all over the world in the film industry.

Here are some key factors that link this year’s accolades with our country.

Days before the event, the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) was involved in a marketing initiative linked to the prestigious award ceremony.

The convention centre had the valuable opportunity to market Kenya as a business hub and investment destination.

“The Corporation is extremely honoured to have supportive partners. Other partners are expected to come on board as the initiative progresses and targets to have all-inclusive participation to push Kenya as not only a premier tourism destination but a business/conference, film, sports heritage and culture destination,” said KICC CEO Nana Gecaga.

She added; “We also cannot forget about the natural talent and individual crafts our people hold that need to also be given international platforms for them to showcase too.”

The initiative saw KICC market Kenya by showcasing various Kenyan brands to guests, celebrities and key stakeholders.

It is not just in a marketing capacity that Kenya got involved in the event. Some Kenyans had the opportunity to be involved in the voting process.

In 2017, filmmaker Judy Kibinge became the first Kenyan to join the Oscar’s Motion Picture Academy, the group that directly participates in voting.

Kibinge’s nomination came hot on the heels of the outrage following a lack of black nominees in the 2014 ceremony.

Judy Kibinge. [Courtesy]

The renowned filmmaker is best known for her work on the films Something Necessary, Project Daddy and Dangerous Affair.

And Kibinge had all the reasons to be honoured - the academy is an invite-only affair and to join it, one must be an accomplished and well-respected film industry professional.

“Younger Africans and Kenyans are this eclectic mix of new confidence about being African mixed with not feeling like you have to completely reject things of the West. Really realising, hey we are on the continent, we are here to stay and we can create things we can relate to,” Kibinge told CNN in 2017. 

Rafiki movie director Wanuri Kahiu was invited to join the academy in 2019, joining top Hollywood personalities.

In 2020, two more Kenyan filmmakers got the big invitation; Toni Kamau and Wanjiru Njendu.

Njendu is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles while Toni is an accomplished producer who has worked with Al Jazeera, BBC World and MTV Europe. 

Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o famously won an Oscar award for her role as Patsy in the 2013 film 12 Years A Slave.

This year’s ceremony, which took place in Los Angeles on March 27 was highly anticipated as the world hoped to see the Academy Award repair its troubled reputation for a lack of inclusivity.

Years of criticism about the ceremony meant it would be under high scrutiny and gain back the respect it had in its early days.

The News York Times noted that the prestigious award ceremony was changed forever by the hashtag #Oscarssowhite, which went viral in 2015 for calling out the lack of black and minority winners.

The report noted the Academy Awards quickly attempted to turn around the situation, seeing more black nominees in the years that followed the revolution.