Nigeria's First Oscars Submission Disqualified For Having Too Much English, Which Is the Country's Official Language

Lionheart (2018)
Screenshot: Netflix, MPM Premium (YouTube)

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has some explaining to do.

According to The Wrap, Nigeria’s Lionheart has been disqualified from the 92nd Academy Awards race. The film, directed by and starring Genevieve Nnaji, was vying for a spot in the Best International Feature Film category. Nnaji portrays Adaeze Obiagu, who “tries to keep her father’s struggling company afloat in a male-dominated environment.”

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The disqualification decision was announced to category voters in an email on Monday. Lionheart is Nigeria’s first film to ever be submitted to the Oscars.

The Wrap reports:

Lionheart, in which Nnaji also stars, is partially in the Igbo language of Nigeria. But it is mostly in English, which violates an Academy rule that entries in the category must have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”

The film had not been vetted by the Academy’s International Feature Film Award Executive Committee in advance of the Oct. 7 announcement of qualifying films but was recently viewed and determined not to qualify in a category that until this year was known as Best Foreign Language Film.

The October announcement for Oscar-qualifying international films made headlines as it listed 93 entries, becoming the largest list of films to compete in the category. However, with this recent disqualification, this year’s class of films is now tied with 2017’s. This year, the category has a record number of female directors (28), though there would’ve been one more with Nnaji. Afghanistan’s Hava, Maryam, Ayesha was disqualified prior to the announcement over concerns of the submission committee’s legitimacy.

There are a couple of things that just don’t curl all the way over with the Academy’s decision regarding Nigeria’s submission:

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1. Hausa is the most widely spoken language in Nigeria and was the official language of northern states from 1951 to 1967, but English is the official language of Nigeria. You know, due to that pesky little thing called colonialism. The Academy initially had a rule for films in the category to be in the country’s official language, until 2006.

2. The category is officially called “Best International Feature Film.” The category was originally named “Best Foreign Language Film” and the 2020 ceremony will be the first with the newly named category. “We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee said at the time of the change, per Variety. “We believe that International Feature Film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.” As the category’s name doesn’t even refer to language any longer, the language spoken in the film shouldn’t matter in terms of qualification.

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As the LA Times pointed out, several other countries in Africa have English as their official language, including Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. In fact, the very country that houses the Academy upholding this rule, the United States of America, doesn’t even have an official language (shout-out to the bigots constantly screaming, “speak English!” to immigrants).

Academy member Ava DuVernay called out the blatant disregard on Twitter Monday asking, “Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”

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“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,” Nnaji responded on Twitter, thanking DuVernay for bringing attention to the matter.

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Lionheart, which premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (note, the previous calendar year requirement does not apply to the international film Oscar category), is now available on Netflix.

‘Lionheart’ (2018) | Nollywood Trailer / Netflix, MPM Premium (YouTube)

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.