Will ‘Night of the Kings’ be Africa’s first Oscar winner in 15 years?

It’s been more than 40 years since the Ivory Coast first won an Oscar for Best International Feature — then known as Best Foreign Language Film. Could the African nation win again for the critically acclaimed film “Night of the Kings”?

“Night of the Kings” is only the third film submitted to the Oscars from the nation, though their success rate is pretty good given their infrequent entries. They won the award for the anti-war satire “Black and White in Color” (1976), the directorial debut of French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud, who went on to direct one other Oscar nominee, but representing France, “Betty Blue” (1986).

Ivory Coast didn’t submit another film for consideration for almost four decades. For 2015 they entered “Run” by director Philippe Lacôte. That film also dealt with unrest in the country, specifically a young man who assassinates the prime minister. That was an especially high-profile film for the nation, its first to be selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. However, the academy didn’t nominate it.

“Night of the Kings” is also directed by Lacôte, and it has already improved on “Run’s” track record by making the Oscars shortlist for Best International Feature. Five of those 15 semi-finalists will be chosen for nominations on March 15. “Kings” follows a young pickpocket trying to survive in a prison run by the inmates after he has been selected to tell a story that must last until dawn. And it has already met with awards recognition, with a victory for Best Foreign Film from the Black Film Critics Circle and a nomination in that category at the Independent Spirit Awards.

The Neon releases scores a jaw-dropping 99% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has been described as “a powerful demonstration of the transporting, and liberating, power of narrative” (Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune), “a persuasive vision of the past and a hopeful glimpse of the future” (Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times), and “an assured, energetic piece of epic filmmaking” (Robert Daniels, RogerEbert.com).

The film is also backed by some of the Expert journalists we’ve surveyed for their Oscar predictions. Five of them are betting on it to be Ivory Coast’s second nomination in the category: Shawn Edwards (WDAF-TV Fox), Tariq Khan (Fox TV), Andrea Mandell (USA Today), Kevin Polowy (Yahoo) and Brian Truitt (USA Today), with Truitt predicting that the film will actually upset to win the prize.

If so, it would be the first film from any African nation to take Best International Feature since South Africa’s “Tsotsi” (2005), which was the first African champ since “Black and White.” This year there are only two African films on the academy’s list of 15 shortlisted contenders, “Night of the Kings” and Tunisia’s “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” but only one of our Experts thinks the latter is a likely nominee: Tim Gray (Variety). Will the continent make a comeback for international film?

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