The Best Documentary FeatureÂ gongÂ forÂ My Octopus TeacherÂ at this yearâ€™s Academy Awards has been seen by many critics as the type of underdog story OscarÂ loves. TheÂ film, directed by Pippa Erlich and James Reed, wasâ€”like the other South African-themed documentary to wow the Oscars,Â Searching for Sugarmanâ€”the feel-good choice.
The story of a man and his relationship with an octopus in the cold, cold water off Cape Townâ€™s peninsula triumphed over a number ofÂ heavy hitters. These included an exposÃ© of hospital deaths caused by corruption in the Romanian government (Collective) and the Obama-produced story of the battle for disability rights in the US (Crip Camp).
So what carried the underdog to victory? And what does this mean for film-making in South Africa? Will this sensational viral hit spawn â€œa trail of comparable works in its wake?â€
The answer to why it won lies in a series of interconnected factors: theÂ power of Netflix,Â the zeitgeist of the global Covid-19 lockdown, the Academyâ€™s idiosyncratic nature when it comes to voting, and the power of a well-made film with a simple and life-affirming story.
The answer to what impact it will have is more complicated: we think it could lead to wonderfully positive outcomes. But only if marginalized South Africans have agency and power in front of and behind the cameras.Read Quartz Africa
Oscar-Winning â€œMy Octopus Teacherâ€ Is a Complicated Success for South Africa