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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has disqualified from competition in the International Feature Film category the Nigerian film “Lionheart” because most of the dialogue is in English. English is the only official language of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, “Lionheart” is incontestably a foreign made film in Nigeria’s only official language.
Earlier in 2019, the Academy changed the name of the “Foreign Language Film” category to “International Feature Film” category. But the requirements were kept, including one that requires a submission's dialogue to be predominantly not English. A statement from the Academy said as much in response to criticism for disqualifying “Lionheart,” restating its policy. “The intent of the award remains the same—to recognize accomplishment in films created outside of the United States in languages other than English.”
It appears that the Academy is following the letter of the law with respect to their submission requirements. Nigeria’s Oscar selection committee said it will ensure that they are followed by Nigerian filmmakers vying for an Oscar submission, and said it will submit another Nigerian film that meets the requirements. But the requirements deserve attention. As many commentators on social media have made clear, English is Nigeria’s official language, the result of British colonialism. At independence, English was selected to be the official language because it did not belong to any of the country’s hundreds of ethnic groups—most with their own language—and could, therefore, belong to all of them. Dozens of countries other than the United States have as an official language English, and many, like Nigeria, are former colonies.
It looks like the Academy has a communications problem with respect to the change of labels. It has certainly upset many Nigerians, who are proud of their booming film industry. The inability of “Lionheart” to compete is especially galling to Nigerians; it features one of Nollywood’s biggest stars, Genevieve Nnaji. At the very least, the Academy appears to have been insensitive on this issue.