The Milkmaid’ pioneers as Nigeria’s first Best International Feature film Oscar submission

'The Milkmaid' marks an evolution point in Nigerian cinema after its Oscar submission in the Best International Feature Film category.

Even though The Milkmaid made history as the first successful Best International Feature Film (BIFF) Oscar submission by Nigeria, the film missed the shortlist. But, its Oscar qualification run and its award win – including five wins from eight nominations at the African Movie Academy Awards – mark an important evolution point in Nigerian cinema, best known for commercial Nollywood hits in English, Nigeria’s official language.

‘The Milkmaid’ is Nigeria’s submission for the Oscars

The Milkmaid was shot in Nigeria’s mountainous Taraba state – part of the Northeast cluster of states that are at the center of Boko Haram insurgency – with dialogue entirely in Hausa and Fulfulde, two widely spoken Nigerian languages.

“We are proud of what our Oscar run has meant for our cast and crew, for the Nigerian film industry, and for Nigerians everywhere,” said director and producer, Desmond Ovbiagele. “We wanted to tell a story that truly reflected the impact and complexities of religious insurgency in Nigeria on those who experience it by force or by choice. Achieving that and being recognized as belonging among the best of the best in international storytelling through film is an incredible honour and we are thrilled that we’ve opened the door for a greater diversity of stories to be told.”

The Milkmaid tells the story of two sisters, Aisha (Anthonieta Kalunta) and Zainab (Maryam Booth), caught in an unyielding cycle of extremism in rural Nigeria. It is a story told with an alluring sensitivity to detail and care for showing audiences what life might be like for young women – and young men – kidnapped [and held hostage] by extremists [who face the choice of rebelling or pledging allegiance to insurgent forces].

A week after The Milkmaid was accepted by the Academy, 300 boys were kidnapped by extremists from a school in Kankara, in northern Nigeria, a chilling reprise of the 2014 abduction of 276 girls in Chibok that sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The Milkmaid is not only a timely film but a necessary one. Though a fictional account, it humanizes the often nameless and faceless victims of religious insurgency heard in the news, and particularly when the victims are of African descent.