Do the Academy’s rules regarding this category definitely need to be rethought?
Nigeria’s first ever submission for consideration in the “Best International Feature Film” category at the Oscars, Lionheart, has been disqualified. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees these things, the movie was disqualified for having too much dialogue in English. Ironically, it just changed the name of this category from Best Foreign Language Feature to “Best International Feature” but with most of the same rules that governed the former foreign-language (non-English) category.
Following the news, legendary Hollywood director Ava DuVernay called out the Academy in a tweet saying, “To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”
Other filmmakers, celebrities and actors have also chimed in. For example, Nollywood veteran Chris Ihidero had a different take, also on Twitter, ”So, the Oscars will be what gets our ‘big’ films to use local languages more? What can’t God do? We are going to move from “No vernacular in my film” to “Make sure the dialogue is at least 50% in Nigerian languages!. I want to win Oscar!!!” …”
In her response to Ava’s tweet, Lionheart’s director Genevieve Nnaji, who also starred in the film, said, “Thank you so much @Ava❤️… 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. @TheAcademy. 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. …”
Do the Academy’s rules regarding this category definitely need to be rethought? It does seem weird that a film is disqualified from the “Best International Feature” category because it is done in the official language of the country it represents.
The Academy also has a history of strange decisions in this category, no thanks to rules that some already see as overly arbitrary and sometimes confusing rules governing eligibility in the international category. For example, non-English-language films “Apocalypto” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” were disqualified from competing in the foreign-language category because they were produced in America, despite the fact that both films had Golden Globe nominations for best foreign-language film.
Meanwhile, Nollywood’s adamant refusal to incorporate more of its local languages in its bigger budget productions might make the industry less competitive in positions like this. Majority of Nigeria’s biggest productions, if not all, have primarily English dialogues, confining the local languages to much less robust productions.
At the end of the day, the Nigerian members of the Academy dropped the ball in this nomination, but the rules also need to be revisited. Lionheart is still eligible for other nominations and hopefully, it will get a nod. Let us know your thoughts on this debacle!
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