Oscars 2021: SA’s My Octopus Teacher strikes gold

The Netflix hit documentary wins in the ‘Best Documentary’ category, and receives a congratulations from President Cyril Ramaphosa



This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News

by Seth Meyer


The Academy Awards have always been a lavish and unusual affair, an opportunity where journalists, film critics and fashion fans come together to spectate a star-studded evening typically defined by celebrity quotes and gaffes, wardrobe wins and malfunctions, film and acting critique and of course, socio-political posturing. This year is no less unusual, in the setting of a pandemic and of course, in the victors in each category of award, which has recently seen some stir-up, in no small part due to lobbying for better representation for minority and foreign films in an Oscars that has traditionally ignored or snubbed these contributors. Film buffs might remember last year’s awards, in which the foreign film ‘Parasite’ won Best Picture, making global headlines and dominating discourse amidst film critiques, seen as a win for foreign and minority representation

Thus, amidst all the glam and glitz in the Oscars 2021, the biggest news for South Africans is the historic victory of the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher, in the Best Documentary Feature category. The film has made waves since its release on the global streaming platform in September of 2020 and has scooped up several awards, including a recent win at the BAFTA in a similar category. 


The Oscar win is the No. 1 prize though, the award that holds the most international prestige and recognition and it marks the first time a South African flick has won in the Documentary Feature category, something that President Cyril Ramaphosa did not miss when he initially sent his congratulations to the film team for their nomination, writing: “The documentary is storytelling at its best, with a deeply resonant conservation message, The team should be justifiably proud, as are we, that My Octopus Teacher has been nominated…a first ever for a South African documentary”. He followed up this letter with a second congratulations after the victory had been announced.

Bigger than the jubilation than our South African film team can enjoy, with Craig Foster (film maker, narrator, the Octopus Man himself) reported to be “incredibly honoured”, is the message that the film itself shares and what its win means for the Oscars going forward. Since the victory of Parasite in the Best Picture category, it has become increasingly evident that there is a growing space and acknowledgement for foreign films, underdog films, minority films, films that have historically struggled to break into the limelight wielded by the industry of Western-dominated cinema prestige. Foster can be proud  of his work that conveyed the message of conservation. It is definitely a stepping stone for more foreign film recognition on the global stage especially for South African filmmakers, whose work we look forward to seeing in the near future!


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