When Racism Is The Rule: Nigerian Film Disqualified From Oscar Consideration Because It Has Too Much English

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Getty Images x E! - 2018 Toronto International Film Festival Portraits

Source: Gareth Cattermole / Getty

It’s no surprise that most organizations with any type of history, even artistic ones, are now or have been problematic at the very least and racist at the most. There was an entire movement named #OscarsSoWhite about the racism inherent in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So perhaps the latest news about the Academy shouldn’t surprise any of us.

According to Al Jazeera, the Nigerian film Lionheart was disqualified from the International Feature Film category because it has too much English dialogue in it.

Lionheart was the first-ever entry for consideration from Nigeria. Starring and directed by Genevieve Nnaji, one of Nollywood’s biggest star, the film is about Adaeze (played by Nnaji) a woman who tries to keep her family’s transportation business operating after her father suffers a heart attack. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

Voters learned of the film’s disqualification via an email.

Academy rules state that “an international film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of American with a predominately non-English dialogue track.”

Lionheart has 12 minutes of dialogue in Igbo with the rest of the film in English. The movie was scheduled to be screened to category voters on Wednesday.

After learning of the disqualification, Nnaji took to Twitter to express her disappointment and the injustice of the decision.

English is Nigeria’s official language, given the fact that they were colonized by the British. If Nnaji sought to distribute her film throughout Nigeria and the world, the use of English was imperative. The existence of this English-language rule precludes several foreign countries from submitting their films, as if language exhaustively defines culture. It does not. The Academy should work to understand the effects of colonialization and make provisions for it.

Several other Black creatives expressed their disappointment as well, including Ava DuVernay, Kerry Washington and more. See what they had to say on the following pages.

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