People on social media have expressed disappointment that Nigeria’s Oscar entry, the film “Lionheart,” has been disqualified to compete in the International Feature Film category.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced earlier this week that it disqualified “Lionheart” in that category since most of the dialogue in the film is in English, The Wrap reported.
The rules for the International Feature category state that a submission must be a “feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”
As The New York Times noted, the Academy had disqualified the 2015 entry from Afghanistan, “Utopia,” citing the same rule.
But the decision to disqualify “Lionheart” is now facing criticism, with commentators pointing out that English is the official language in Nigeria as a result of colonization.
A columnist at The Guardian, Afua Hirsch, called the ordeal “ironic on so many levels” in an opinion piece published Wednesday.
“One of the reasons it’s taken African countries so long to build modern film industries is that Britain — while also imposing the use of English — made a concerted effort to suppress them,” she wrote.
She later added, “Now this same colonial history is being used to shut down Africans’ against-the-odds achievements in doing just that.”
In a statement emailed to HuffPost on Wednesday, the Academy noted it had changed the name of the category to “International Feature Film” from “Foreign Language Film” in April, but confirmed in announcements at the time “that the rules for the category would not change.”
The Academy said it changed the name after finding that “the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community.”
“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 continued. “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.”
Ava DuVernay, the celebrated director, called the film’s removal into question on Twitter on Monday.
“You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English,” she wrote. “But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”
Genevieve Nnaji, who directed and stars in “Lionheart,” also criticized the removal of the film, which follows her character’s journey in navigating a male-dominated industry when she steps up to run the family business after her father falls ill.
A portion of the film, which is streaming on Netflix, features Igbo, one of the hundreds of languages spoken in Nigeria.
“This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians,” Nnaji tweeted on Monday, after thanking DuVernay for her support.
She continued, “This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria.”
The director added in a later 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.”
Other Twitter users weighed in: