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Academy’s Disqualification of Nigeria’s First Oscar Entry Comes Under Fire

Amid biting criticism of the Academy’s decision to disqualify Genevieve Nnaji’s “Lionheart” from the Oscar race for best international feature film, Nigeria’s selection committee called the move “an eye-opener” and said Tuesday it would urge local filmmakers to take care to follow Academy guidelines in the future.

The committee acknowledged that “Lionheart” – Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Oscar contention – departed from the requirement that contenders feature “a predominantly non-English dialogue track.” The 95-minute comedy is mostly in English, with a short section in the Igbo language.

However, English is Nigeria’s official language, the result of decades of British colonialism before the country gained independence in 1960. Numerous indigenous tongues are also spoken in Nigeria, including Igbo and Yoruba.

Despite the selection committee’s conciliatory statement, the disqualification of “Lionheart” has sparked a social media backlash. Director Ava DuVernay lent her support to the film’s entry in the Oscar race, in a category that, ironically, has been newly rechristened as “international feature film” instead of “foreign-language film.”

“Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?” DuVernay asked the Academy in a tweet.

Ava DuVernay
@ava

To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language? https://www.thewrap.com/academy-disqualifies-nigerias-oscar-entry-lionheart/ 

Academy Disqualifies Nigeria's Oscar Entry 'Lionheart'

The film, Nigeria's first-ever submission in the Best International Feature Film category, is largely in English, which makes it ineligible to compete

thewrap.com
36.8K people are talking about this

Variety has reached out to the Academy for comment.

Director Nnaji, one of Africa’s most recognized and feted screen stars, thanked DuVernay for her support, saying that the film “represents the way we speak as Nigerians.” She described English as “a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country,” adding pointedly: “We did not choose who colonized us.”

Genevieve Nnaji MFR
@GenevieveNnaji1

1/1 1/2 Thank you so much @ava❤️.
I am the director of Lionheart. This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians. This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria. @TheAcademy https://twitter.com/ava/status/1191481642734387200 

Ava DuVernay
@ava

To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language? https://www.thewrap.com/academy-disqualifies-nigerias-oscar-entry-lionheart/ 

7,684 people are talking about this

Genevieve Nnaji MFR
@GenevieveNnaji1

2/2 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. @TheAcademy https://twitter.com/ava/status/1191481642734387200 

Ava DuVernay
@ava

To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language? https://www.thewrap.com/academy-disqualifies-nigerias-oscar-entry-lionheart/ 

4,884 people are talking about this

Nnaji rose through the ranks of Nigeria’s prolific Nollywood film industry to become what Oprah Winfrey once dubbed the “Julia Roberts of Africa.” Her directorial debut was one of a record 10 African films submitted to the Academy this year for Oscar consideration. “Lionheart,” in which Nnaji also stars, had its world premiere at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.

The Nigerian Oscar selection committee also spoke of the greater accessibility of English for local audiences. “The budding Nigerian film industry is often faced with producing films with wide reach which often makes the recording dialogue predominantly English with non-English infusions in some cases,” the committee said in its statement.

The committee called the Academy’s decision “an eye-opener and step forward into growing a better industry.” It said it would urge Nigerian filmmakers “to shoot with the intention of non-English recording dialogue as a key qualifying parameter to represent the country in the [contest for the] most prestigious award.”

Other commenters lambasted the Academy’s decision, although some acknowledged that rules are rules.

Zulumoke@zvlv_o

Dear @TheAcademy, your criteria is valid, but so is our reality. Creating 2 categories - Best Foreign Film and Best International Film - is probably best. Filmmakers don't make films for awards. We make films for our audience. #Lionheart https://twitter.com/ava/status/1191481642734387200 

Ava DuVernay
@ava

To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language? https://www.thewrap.com/academy-disqualifies-nigerias-oscar-entry-lionheart/ 

349 people are talking about this

Lawrence Evra Okoro@LawrenceokoroNg

#Lionheart was disqualified from the Oscars becos it was done in English language.

So these people came to colonize us, changed our language & now they are rejecting us for adopting their language.

Biko, our Colonial Masters need to come back because we want to be uncolonized.

View image on Twitter
17 people are talking about this

DANNY WALTER 👑@Cutewalterr

Maybe the Oscars shouldn't have changed the category from Best Foreign Language Film.

If they're calling the category “Best International Feature” then the National origin, Not the language, should be the relevant factor. #Lionheart

133 people are talking about this

Roy Biakpara@RBiakpara

Do you know the Oscars' rules are publicly available?

The film was submitted into the 'International Feature Film' category. Within that category, it was disqualified. Lessons should be learnt for next time.

Film is superb but someone should have read the rules.#Lionheart

View image on Twitter
33 people are talking about this

 

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