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.
This year’s field is now tied with 2017’s as the largest in the category’s history. Since “Lionheart” was made by actress-turned-director Genevieve Nnaji, its disqualification drops the number of female directors in this year’s race to 28, which is still a category record.
It was the first film ever submitted to the Oscars by Nigeria.
“Lionheart,” in which Nnaji also stars, 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.”
The film had not been vetted by the Academy’s International Feature Film Award Executive Committee in advance of the Oct. 7 announcement of qualifying films but was recently viewed and determined not to qualify in a category that until this year was known as Best Foreign Language Film.
One other film, Afghanistan’s “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha,” had been deemed ineligible before the list of qualifying films was announced. It was denied a spot on the roster of contenders over questions about the legitimacy of the Afghan committee that submitted it.
The Academy announced the disqualification of “Lionheart” to voters in the category in an email on Monday. The film was scheduled to screen for Academy voters in the international category on Wednesday in a double bill with the Honduran entry, “Blood, Passion, and Coffee.” That film will now screen by itself at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.
“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.”
LionHeart which is not excluded from entering other Oscar categories including consideration for best picture has just under 12 minutes of dialogue that is in the Igbo language native to Southeastern Nigeria, while the remaining 94-minutes is in English. With the disqualification, the number of films in contention for the award has dropped from 93 to 92.
However reacting to the disqualification on Twitter, Genevieve Nnaji wrote;
“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.”
“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.”
American filmmaker who directed the Netflix drama miniseries When They See Us, Ava DuVernay also reacted to the disqualification. She tweeted;
“To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”