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Oscars comes under fire for banning Nigerian film Lionheart from international category

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The Academy has come under fire after Nigeria’s first Best International Feature Film entry was disqualified from the category because it features too much English dialogue.

Lionheart – which premiered a September at the Toronto International Film Festival – is a Netflix original, and the first one to come from the African country which communicates in several hundred languages but mainly uses English after colonization.

In a Monday email to voters for the 2020 Oscars, it was revealed the Genevieve Nnaji-directed motion picture that includes some dialogue in Nigeria’s Igbo language, would not be screened on Wednesday at an event for qualifying pictures.

The Academy has renamed the Best Foreign Language Film category to the Best International Film. However the rebranding for 2020 did not include an update in the rule which states a film must have ‘a predominantly non-English dialogue track’. 

Nigeria's Lionheart was disqualified from the Best International Feature Film category for the Oscars 2020 prompting responses from the likes of Ava DuVernay

Nigeria’s Lionheart was disqualified from the Best International Feature Film category for the Oscars 2020 prompting responses from the likes of Ava DuVernay 

Actress and director Genevieve Nnaji argued the film -which premiered a September at the Toronto International Film Festival- is still Nigerian despite the country's official language

Actress and director Genevieve Nnaji argued the film -which premiered a September at the Toronto International Film Festival- is still Nigerian despite the country’s official language

The director and star of the movie quipped: 'We did not choose who colonized us. It's no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies'

The director and star of the movie quipped: ‘We did not choose who colonized us. It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies’ 

Film fans have asked why the Academy’s International Feature Film Award Executive Committee did not vet the movie before the qualifiers were announced October 7.

Lionheart’ director explained that English is the one connecting language in the country, which was a British colony for more than 100 years until its independence in 1960.

‘This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians,’ Genevieve Nnaji tweeted. ‘This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country; thereby making us #OneNigeria.’

The news of Lionheart’s disqualification meant Honduran entry, Blood, Passion, and Coffee was to screen solo at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood on Wednesday.

Speaking about her submission to the category where France’s Les Miserables is currently up for the prize out of 91 others, she added: ‘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.’ 

Outraged film fans argue that the decision was not fair and suggested the history of the country shouldn't filter into the matter

Outraged film fans argue that the decision was not fair and suggested the history of the country shouldn’t filter into the matter

It was in response to a tweet from acclaimed film and documentary maker Ava DuVernay who asked whether it meant Nigeria would never be able to qualify for best International film because of the official language. 

‘You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because it’s 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?’ DuVernay tweeted Monday.

Social media user Danny Walter posted: ‘If the English Language is the Main reason Lionheart was disqualified from the Oscar, then Nigeria’s chances of winning an Oscar is zero.’

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The Netflix motion picture is about tjhe challenges of running a company in a female in a male-dominated industry. 

Adaeze – played by Nnaji  steps up to the challenge when her father, Chief Ernest Obiagu is forced to take a step back due to health issues. ‘Ironically, he appoints his crude and eccentric brother, Godswill, instead to run the company with his young daughter,’ the synopsis reads. ‘Complications arise when they discover that the family business is in dire financial straits and both Adaeze and Godswill try to save the company in their own way to crazy and often hilarious results.’

The disqualification also means the number of female directors has dropped to 28 for the 92nd Academy Awards. It’s still a record for the Oscars.  

Some social media users agreed that Lionheart should be disqualified, as the rules are clear

Some social media users agreed that Lionheart should be disqualified, as the rules are clear

The only other film disqualified was Afghanistan’s Hava, Maryam, Ayesha. 

But the Academy took action before the qualifying films were announced last month and the issue surrounded the legitimacy of the Afghan committee that submitted it, The Wrap reports. 

Twitter user Franklin Leonard posted: ‘Colonialism really is a bitch.’ 

But many chimed in that the rules are fair and suggested the filmmakers should’ve requested a special exemption.

One tweeter reasoned: ‘Your criteria is valid, but so is our reality. Creating 2 categories – Best Foreign Film and Best International Film – is probably best. Filmmakers don’t make films for awards. We make films for our audience.’

One social media user expressed hope the rules could change, as seen in the music industry.

‘1. Steaming music wasn’t considered for Grammys once. People protested and campaigned before rules changed,’ Editi Effiong posted. ‘2. Ava isn’t saying Lionheart met the language minimums. She’s saying that rule is silly.

‘3. That other films qualified doesn’t mean the rule isn’t silly, in context.’

Shortlisted nominations are announced in January and the ceremony takes places February in Los Angeles.

One social media user expressed hope the rules could change, as seen in the music industry

One social media user expressed hope the rules could change, as seen in the music industry

Film fans have asked why the Academy's International Feature Film Award Executive Committee did not vet the movie before the qualifiers were announced October 7

Film fans have asked why the Academy’s International Feature Film Award Executive Committee did not vet the movie before the qualifiers were announced October 7

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