Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar entry has been disqualified from competing in the international film category for featuring too much dialogue in English, which happens to be the country’s official language.
Lionheart, the directorial debut of starring actress Genevieve Nnaji, follows a woman as she navigates a male-dominated industry to save her ailing father’s business.
The film’s characters speak in Igbo, a language spoken in southern Nigeria, for a small portion of the 95-minute run time, but not long enough to meet the category’s requirement that each entry feature a “predominantly non-English dialogue track.”
The decision to disqualify Lionheart, relayed to Oscar voters via email, was first reported by the Wrap.
An article published Monday states that the title “had not been vetted” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before appearing on the record-breaking list of 93 entries released early last month.
Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay criticised the category’s criteria by tweeting to the academy that “English is the official language of Nigeria.
Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?” Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, a yearly survey of the most popular unproduced screenplays, pointed out that Nigerians speak English because of colonialism.
Nnaji, quote-tweeting DuVernay, joined the discussion Monday.
“This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians. This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ language spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria,” she wrote, adding in another tweet: “It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”
Lionheart is not the first international entry the academy has deemed ineligible; in 2007, Israel was asked to submit another feature because a large portion of Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit” was also in English.
The rule disqualifying both films was approved in 2006, ahead of the 79th Academy Awards. Before that point, each entry’s dialogue had to be in the official language of the country submitting the film.
The academy’s board of governors altered the category again this past April to promote a “positive and inclusive view of filmmaking,” per a release announcing that the “foreign language film” category would now be called “international feature film.”
The language criteria did not change. Reached for comment on Tuesday, the academy stated that, despite its new name, the “intent of the award remains the same - to recognise accomplishment in films created outside of the United States in languages other than English.”
“As this year’s submitted films were evaluated, we discovered that ‘Lionheart’ includes only 11 minutes of non-English dialogue, which makes it ineligible for this award category,” the statement concluded.
— Washington Post