By Sonia Rao
The Washington Post
Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar entry has been disqualified from competing in the international film category for featuring too much dialogue in English, which happens to be the country’s official language.
“Lionheart,” the directorial debut of starring actress Genevieve Nnaji, follows a woman as she navigates a male-dominated industry to save her ailing father’s business. The film’s characters speak in Igbo, a language spoken in southern Nigeria, for a small portion of the 95-minute run time, but not long enough to meet the category’s requirement that each entry feature a “predominantly non-English dialogue track.”
The decision to disqualify “Lionheart,” relayed to Oscar voters via email, was first reported by the Wrap. A story published Monday states that the title “had not been vetted” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before appearing on the record-breaking list of 93 entries released early last month.
Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay criticized the category’s criteria by tweeting to the academy that “English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”
Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, a yearly survey of the most popular unproduced screenplays, pointed out that Nigerians speak English because of colonialism.
Nnaji, quote-tweeting DuVernay, joined the discussion Monday.
“This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians. This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ language spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria,” she wrote, adding in another 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.”
“Lionheart” is not the first international entry the academy has deemed ineligible; in 2007, Israel was asked to submit another feature because a large portion of Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit” was in English. The rule disqualifying both films was approved in 2006, ahead of the 79th Academy Awards. Before that point, each entry’s dialogue had to be in the official language of the country submitting the film.