Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Academy disqualifies Nigeria’s Oscar entry ‘Lionheart’ for English dialogue

The decision provoked outrage from filmmakers Genevieve Nnaji and Ava DuVernay

Director and actress Genevieve Nnaji in 'Lionheart'. Courtesy Netflix 
Director and actress Genevieve Nnaji in 'Lionheart'. Courtesy Netflix 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disqualified Nigeria’s Oscar entry because of its chiefly English dialogue, sparking a backlash from filmmakers.

Lionheart, the African country's first entry in the Oscars' Best International Feature Film category, was largely shot in English, Nigeria's most widely spoken language. But to qualify for the category, previously called Best Foreign Language Film, it must have "a predominantly non-English dialogue track".

Only 11 minutes of Lionheart's 95-minute running time is in Igbo, the native language of an ethnic group from south-eastern Nigeria.

The film, available to stream on Netflix, is directed by Genevieve Nnaji and Nkem Owoh and stars Pete Edochie alongside Nnaji herself.

Of the decision to shoot in English, Nnaji said it "represented how Nigerians communicate".

"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," the filmmaker wrote on Twitter.

"It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonised us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian."

US director Ava DuVernay criticised the academy for its decision, asking if, by banning films that largely use English, they are "barring Nigeria from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?"

As it stands, there are 92 films eligible for the International Feature Film category at the 2020 Academy Awards, including regional submissions such as Haifaa Al Mansour's The Perfect Candidate for Saudi Arabia; It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman for Palestine; and Tunisian film Dear Son by Mohamed Ben Attia.

Favourites in the category are thought to be Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, from South Korea, and Spanish film Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory) by Pedro Almodovar.

The Oscars shortlist will be released in December and a full list of nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020. The ceremony will be held on Sunday, February 9, 2020.

Updated: November 6, 2019 12:40 PM

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