The 2020 Oscars race is already off to a controversial start thanks to a decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to disqualify the Nigerian film Lionheart for using too much English.
The Academy made the decision that the film, which made history as Nigeria's first-ever entry into the Best International Feature Film category (previously called Best Foreign Language Film), violates the rule that films must use "a predominantly non-English dialogue track."
Lionheart, in which a woman steps in to help run her ailing father's business in a male-dominated world, is indeed largely in English, along with the Nigerian language of Igbo.
But critics of the Academy's decision say that the move is unfair given that English is the official language of Nigeria.
When They See Us and A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay took to Twitter to blast the Academy, 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?"
To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in Engl… https://t.co/lumMVrLjqb— Ava DuVernay (@Ava DuVernay) 1572906334.0
The disqualification is particularly notable given that the film's director and star, Genevieve Nnaji, was one of a record 29 female directors in the category of 93 films.
Nnaji also spoke out after the Academy's decision, defending and shedding light onto the way English is used in the film.
1/1 1/2 Thank you so much @ava❤️. I am the director of Lionheart. This movie represents the way we speak as Niger… https://t.co/JG8EiRPR8s— Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@Genevieve Nnaji MFR) 1572911198.0
2/2 It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonized… https://t.co/7kqZEPVcCg— Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@Genevieve Nnaji MFR) 1572911305.0
Many others also spoke up to make their displeasure with the Academy known.
Something about this doesn't seem fair. The film was disqualified because it's mostly in English. Meanwhile, the of… https://t.co/U64czfwXmS— Britni Danielle (@Britni Danielle) 1572899193.0
@ava @TheAcademy https://t.co/NsK8xdRQiS— Emil (@Emil) 1572906418.0
@ava @TheAcademy Hello colonialism. I haven't seen you in about five seconds. Oh you're punishing me for being one… https://t.co/OJDtJw5gox— Sabina Giado (@Sabina Giado) 1572906923.0
@ava @TheAcademy It calls to question their definition of authentic.— Nidhi Chanani (@Nidhi Chanani) 1572906586.0
@ava @TheAcademy Oooof. Extremely great when white Americans tell other cultures how to be authentic. Super great.— Christopher Keelty 🏳️🌈 (@Christopher Keelty 🏳️🌈) 1572959331.0
@ava @TheAcademy Sigh. Trust white people to force you to learn their language, make it your official language and… https://t.co/gjAjtDszjI— Marve Micheal (@Marve Micheal) 1572908357.0
@ava @TheAcademy And we literally speak English because they came to our country made us lol.— Levi @FF x !GWAK party (@Levi @FF x !GWAK party) 1572908053.0
While some argued that rules are rules, unfair as they may seem.
@xubeauty06 @ava @TheAcademy No, this is why Nigeria should submit a film predominantly in Igbo or Yoruba or Ijaw i… https://t.co/apjWyE2FAi— Muhammad Al-Saud (@Muhammad Al-Saud) 1572929576.0
@ava @TheAcademy It’s qualified for any awards except best international feature. Nigerians could always speak Igbo… https://t.co/Am6Y0dBiA2— The Leopard 🐆 (@The Leopard 🐆) 1572906958.0
@JamesCullenB @ava @TheAcademy This is precisely why English-language Canadian films are ineligible. And, of course… https://t.co/sHSQ2fFl7r— Ian Gillespie (@Ian Gillespie) 1572919223.0
@breakwayfearles As of 2006, the movies don't have to be in the country's official language. They just have to be p… https://t.co/MFEpVBHWhm— Max Borg (@Max Borg) 1572911433.0
Lionheart isn't the only film that was disqualified from the category, albeit for different reasons.
Before the list of qualifying films was announced, Afghanistan's film Hava, Maryam, Ayesha had been deemed ineligible after concerns were raised about the legitimacy of the Afghan committee that submitted it to the Academy.
With Lionheart out of the running, top contenders in the Best International Feature Film category are expected to include Spain's Pain and Glory, South Korea's Parasite, and France's Les Miserables.
And while it may not come away with any coveted Oscars, you can still check out Lionheart, which is currently streaming on Netflix.