Oscars: Academy stands by Nigerian film disqualification, cites reasons

Nkem Owoh and Genevieve Nnaji in a scene in ’Lion Heart’
Nkem Owoh and Genevieve Nnaji in a scene in ’Lion Heart’

Amid the criticism that has trailed the disqualification of Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lion Heart’ from the Oscar race, the Academy cited its reasons in a statement issued on Wednesday.

In the statement published in Variety Magazine, the Academy cited ‘Lion Heart’s mere 11 minutes of non-English dialogue as grounds for disqualification.

“In April 2019, we announced that the name of the Foreign Language Film category changed to International Feature Film. We also confirmed that the rules for the category would not change. The intent of the award remains the same — to recognize accomplishment in films created outside of the United States in languages other than English,” the statement reads.

“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.”

Nigeria’s Oscar Selection Committee on Tuesday described the disqualification as “an eye-opener” and said it would urge local filmmakers to take care to follow Academy guidelines in the future.

The committee acknowledged that “Lionheart”, which is 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.

Despite the selection committee’s statement, the disqualification of “Lionheart” sparked a social media backlash.

Hollywood 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.

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.”

Veteran actor Segun Arinze has also reacted to the movie’s disqualification from the Oscar race.

In a phone interview with Plus TV, Arinze explained how he gathered that Lionheart met all the other requirements especially as the picture and sound was of good quality. However, the film fell short in terms of spoken language.

He said, “If it’s going to be a foreign language film, it has to be at least 60% of Igbo or Yoruba and the rest 40% could be in English. But they fell short and were about 20% Igbo, so that was a minus”.

Speaking further, Arinze added that even though English is Nigeria’s lingua franca, it cannot be considered a foreign language.

Arinze also spoke on how Genevieve stood alone to push the film and how things would have been different if Nigeria had influencers to push their matter at the Oscars.

He said,“ The international politics of film was also involved because their government pushed. It takes a lot of money to push. Influence! We didn’t have influencers to help push that matter. So if we had influencers to help push Nigeria’s entry into the Oscars.

“But unfortunately, Genevieve was just on her own.”

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