Nigeria’s first-ever entry for the international feature film Oscar category, formerly known as best foreign film, has been disqualified because it contained too much English dialogue.
“Lionheart,” directed by Genevieve Nnaji, tells the story of a woman running a company in a male-dominated industry after her father had to step down because of health issues. Ten minutes of the film’s 95-minute run time is in Nigeria’s Igbo language, while the rest is in English.
However, Ava DuVernay, a fellow director, was quick to point out that English is Nigeria’s official language.
“You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English,” DuVernay wrote in a tweet. “But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”
Currently, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ rules stipulate that an international film must be over 40 minutes long, be produced outside of the U.S. and have a predominantly non-English dialogue track.
In April, the Academy changed the name of the foreign film award to international feature film.
“We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” commented Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee. “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.”
The Academy did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The Academy’s decision was criticized by Nnaji, who wrote on Twitter, “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.”
She added in a second 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.”
However, just because “Lionheart” is ineligible for the international film category does not prevent it from being considered for other Oscar categories, including best picture.
“Lionheart” premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and was acquired by Netflix for worldwide distribution.