Throwback: ‘Daybreak in Udi’ was the first Nigerian language film to win an Oscar

Daybreak In Udi

There is so much about the history of Nigerian media and specifically Nigerian cinema that was lost during the decade of cultural decline. In the late 1970’s to mid 1980’s, following the Festac 77 cultural festival, successive military governments, economic recessions and a change in cultural expectations led to the death of Nigerian cinema and signficantly reduced the influence of our national media platforms. Neither has really truly recovered from that era and we have had to build privately, an alternative media ecosystem that works independently of the establishment.

A consequence of this is that much of the history of Nigerian media was erased, including the fact that a film about Nigeria, shot predominantly in Igbo was nominated for and won a prestigious Academy award, nearly 70 years before Genevieve Nnaji began her campaign for ‘Lionheart’, another Igbo story to be recognised by the Academy.

The themes in Daybreak In Udi are as poignant today as they were in 1949. They show the conflict between preserving traditional Nigerian cultures and embracing the ‘progress’ the West represent and the opportunity cost of choosing either side. The film is also a rare (if somewhat staged) look into what Igbo culture must have looked like as it transitioned from purist to diluted by Western influence and the kind of resistance Igbo people put up against cultural invasion.

These are themes that are still visited by filmmakers from across the world who keep navigating these issues and asking these questions in their contemporary interactions with the ‘benevolent’ West. There is also the fact that Daybreak in Udi, which was entered as a documentary, is shot and produced by white filmmakers, and trend that continues to this day where only white storytellers have sufficient funding to tell indigenous stories.

If anything, Daybreak in Udi is a reminder that the technology might have improved, but much of the politics around media remains.

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