Director Genevieve Nnaji, Ava DuVernay, and Lulu Wang respond to the Academy's decision to bar Lionheart from competing for the International Feature Oscar.

By Joey Nolfi
November 05, 2019 at 12:31 PM EST

Nigeria made history earlier this year after entering its first film into the International Feature Oscar race, but a recent decision by the Academy has now disqualified the project from competing against 92 other films in the category.

EW has confirmed director’s Genevieve Nnaji’s Nigerian-produced Netflix film Lionheart — about a young woman who takes the reins on a family business in a male-dominated industry when her father falls ill — is no longer eligible to receive a nomination in the International Feature category (previously known as Best Foreign Language Film prior to 2020) due to its predominantly English dialogue track.

Though English is Nigeria’s official language, the film’s 95-minute running time contains only 11 minutes and 35 seconds of non-English dialogue, meaning the film does not meet the category’s requirements for a nomination. The film, however, can still be submitted for consideration in Best Picture and other categories.

Nnaji, Ava DuVernay, and The Farewell filmmaker Lulu Wang were among notable figures who addressed the Academy’s decision on social media, with the film’s director tweeting that the “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” in response to DuVernay’s post criticizing the move.  

“It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies,” she continued. “We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”

Wang, whose A24-backed film The Farewell is widely expected to be a major contender in the upcoming awards race (and received multiple Gotham Awards nominations last month), said Lionheart‘s disqualification “calls attention to the delineation of ‘foreign film’ vs ‘foreign-language film,'” going on to ask: “Can a ‘foreign film’ be in OUR language (i.e. English)? Can a domestic (i.e American) film be in a foreign language? What does it mean to be foreign? And to be American?'”

Representatives for the film’s distributor, Netflix, did not have a comment on Lionheart‘s disqualification.

Known as Best Foreign Language Film until 2020, the International Feature category underwent a name change in April 2019 as a means to better represent motion picture artists working around the world.

“We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” said Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee, of the alteration in a press release. “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.”

A shortlist of 10 International Feature finalists will be announced in December, while the final five nominees will be revealed on Monday, Jan. 13. Ahead of the Feb. 9 Academy Awards ceremony, see the full roundup of 92 films submitted for International Feature consideration here.

Lionheart is streaming now on Netflix.

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