With130 acting credits to her name, Nnaji is star of the booming Nollywood scene, whichproduced 1,500 films per yearas of 2017.Lionheart, a film in which Nnaji plays a woman taking over her family’s business in a male-dominated world, is her first foray into directing, and the movie earned positive write-ups intheNew York TimesandtheLos Angeles Timesearlier this year, even being called “groundbreaking”by the Daily Dot. The film’s submission for Academy consideration seems obvious, given its glowing reception.
Per The Wrap, however, the Academy’s rules for the category state that a film must have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track,” and although Lionheart uses some Igbo dialogue, it’s mostly in English. Many languages are spoken in Nigeria—including Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, and English Creole—but English remainsthe country’s official language, a designation that’s no doubt the result of the British colonization of Nigeria.
Since theBritish annexation of Lagos in 1861, English has inevitably become a part of Nigerian life. “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,” Nnajiwrotein response to the situation. As she addedin a follow-up 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.”
The Academy’s decision regardingLionheartis even more perplexing given that Best International Feature Film is a new and allegedly more inclusive name for the category once known as Best Foreign Language Film, the Roothas pointed out. “We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee,said in a statementin April. “We believe that International Feature Film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”
Vocal pushback toLionheart‘s disqualification is now playing out online, witha tweetfrom director Ava DuVernay having picked up over 80,000 likes as of this writing. “Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?” DuVernay wrote.
Despite the Academy’s previous announcement regarding steps toward global inclusivity, it’s clear that the group’s distinctions are arbitrary and based on an America-centric point of view. As director Bong Joon-ho, whose filmParasiteremains a top contender in the Best International Feature Film category,said last month, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”
WhileLionheartis no longer in the Oscar running, the film can still be streamed on Netflix.