Lionheart: Nigeria’s Oscar Entry Disqualified For Predominantly English Dialogue

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The Academy has disqualified Nigeria’s “Lionheart” from the Oscar race in the Best International Feature Film category, dropping the number of films competing for the award to 92 from what had been a record 93 entries.

Lionheart is Nigeria’s first-ever submission to the Academy Awards. Nnaji stars alongside Peter Edochie and Nkem Owoh in the film, which she also co-wrote with her producing partner Chinny Onwugbenu.

Directed by and starring Genevieve Nnaji — who has been called the Julia Roberts of Nigeria — “Lionheart” has earned strong reviews. But the film, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is mostly in English, running afoul of an academy rule that entries in the freshly renamed international feature film category must have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track.” All but roughly 11 minutes of the 95-minute film — about a woman trying to keep her father’s company afloat in a male-dominated world — are in English.

“Lionheart,” is partially in the Igbo language of Nigeria. But it is mostly in English, which violates an Academy rule that entries in the category must have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”

Still, the disqualification of “Lionheart” — which, ironically, follows the academy’s decision earlier this year to change the name of the category from best foreign-language film to best international feature film — struck a sour note with at least one high-powered Hollywood figure. Director Ava DuVernay tweeted her dismay, noting that English is the official language of Nigeria.

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The decision was also criticized by Nnaji, who said on Twitter, “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.” 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.”

Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, added, “Colonialism really is a bitch.” 

“Lionheart,” in which Nnaji plays a woman who tries to keep her father’s struggling company afloat in a male-dominated environment, is currently available on Netflix.

Frontrunners in the category include South Korea’s “Parasite,” Spain’s “Pain and Glory” and France’s “Les Miserables.”

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