Academy slammed over decision to disqualify Nigeria’s first ever Oscar entry

Lionheart has been barred from the best international feature film category because its main language is English

OSCARS CONTROVERSY: Actor and director Genevieve Nnaji

FILMMAKERS AND film fans have slammed The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences after it voted to disqualify Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar submission, on the grounds that the movie’s dialogue is primarily in English.

Lionheart, led by actress and director Genevive Naji, depicts a woman who tries to keep her father’s struggling company afloat in a male-dominated environment. 

The film was submitted for the best international feature film category, formerly known as best foreign language film.

Lionheart is partially in the Igbo language of Nigeria, but most of the film is in English, a violation of an Academy rule that entries in the International Film category must be in “a predominantly non-English” language. The Academy announced its decision Monday morning.

Prior to this snub, the Nigerian community erupted with joy at the hope of an Academy award. The nomination was a huge accomplishment for the Nollywood film industry. The end result being a disqualification was a huge disappointment for many supporters who took to social media to express their dismay. 

Groundbreaking director Ava DuVernay has openly expressed her frustration. She tweeted: “To [The Academy], you disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for best international feature because it’s 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?”

Genevive Nnaji responded to DuVernay’s support and thanked her for her comments. She tweeted: “This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians. This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500 plus languages spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria.”

She continued: “It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonized [sic] us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”

SUPPORT: Ava DuVernay has criticised The Academy’s decision (Photo: Ian West/PA Wire)

The Academy established the best foreign language category in 1956 to honour and include non-English language films. However after arguments about the outdated term “foreign”, best international feature took its place. The Academy stated the new category name “better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience”. However, the language eligibility requirement was not changed. 

Lionheart has not been barred from other feature film categories. But it would need to play in a Los Angeles County commercial theatre for a minimum of seven days, with at least three paid admission screenings a day before the end of the year in order to qualify in the other categories.

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