Helmed by Nigerian actor-director Genevieve Nnaji, the film was selected as the country’s selection to compete at Oscars 2020 under the International Feature Film category.

However, as the Academy’s rules for this category, “an international film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.” Out of its 94-minute runtime, Lionheart has around 12 minutes of dialogue in Southeastern Nigeria’s native language, Igbo, but the rest of the film is in English. But the film is not prohibited from entering any other Oscar categories, including the Best Picture section.

Nnaji has criticised the Academy’s decision to disqualify the film on Twitter, saying that the language in the film represents how Nigerians speak. She adds English acts as a bridge between over 500 languages spoken by Nigerians.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who has worked on such projects as Selma and Netflix’s When They See Us, has also voiced her disapproval with the Academy’s stand. She pointed out English is, after all, the official language of Nigeria.

Check out her tweet here

Incidentally, the Academy’s move comes at the heels of the body rebranding the Foreign Language Film category to International Feature Film category.  At the time, the co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee, Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann said, “We have noted that the reference to ‘foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community. 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.”

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