Nigeria: Outrage As Oscars Disqualifies Nigeria's Entry

Genevieve Nnaji stars and directs in the Netflix-backed Lionheart
5 November 2019

'Lion Heart', Nigeria's first Oscars entry, has been disqualified from the race for the 'Best International Feature Film' category.

The Academy on Monday said the Genevieve Nnaji-directed movie, was disqualified because it violates the rule that entries in the category must have "a predominantly non-English dialogue track."

'Lion heart' is partially in the Igbo language but it is mostly in English.

Nnaji stars alongside Peter Edochie and Nkem Owoh in the film, which she also co-wrote with her producing partner, Chinny Onwugbenu.

Lionheart premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and was acquired by Netflix for worldwide distribution.

The decision to disqualify the movie has however sparked outrage, with many saying English is the official language of Nigeria and hence it shouldn't have been disqualified.

'Rules and rules'

According to the Academy's rules for the international feature film 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."

Lionheart has just under 12 minutes of dialogue that is in the Igbo language native to Southeastern Nigeria, while the rest of the 94-minute picture is in English.

The film is not excluded from entering other Oscar categories, including consideration for the best picture.


Hollywood director, Ava DuVernay, and many others have argued that English is Nigeria's official language.

In its attempt to encourage foreign language films, he asked if the Academy is not penalising international filmmakers operating in their country's most commonly spoken language.

Nnaji, who also stars in the film, took to Twitter Monday night to defend her movie.

2/2 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. @TheAcademy

- Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@GenevieveNnaji1) November 4, 2019

1/1 1/2 Thank you so much @ava❤️. I am the director of Lionheart. 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. @TheAcademy

- Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@GenevieveNnaji1) November 4, 2019

Elsewhere on Twitter, the reactions from Nigerians and foreigners are alike.

They criticise the Academy's decision as well as pointing out Nigeria's obvious historical colonial reasons for having English as a national language.

The founder of The Black List, Franklin Leonard, said, "Colonialism really is a bi..h."

Read some of the most viral tweets below.

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?

- Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 4, 2019

Lionheart was today disqualified from the Oscar's Best Intl Film.. because.. it is mostly in English.

Nigeria was colonised by the Brits.English is an official language in the Country.

You really can't win with this lot.Quite literally cannot win.

- Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) November 5, 2019

More than 500 indigenous languages are spoken in Nigeria, yet Nigeria's official™️ language is English.

A Nigerian film in English can't win the Oscars' foreign™️ category because it's not foreign™️ enough.

Colonizers love to punish the colonized for being colonized.

- Ivie Ani (@ivieani) November 5, 2019

Oh, the penalties of colonization.

- Aida 🇵🇷Rodriguez 🏁 (@FunnyAida) November 4, 2019

Any academy panel worth their salt, should be doing homework behind the scenes to be fully equipped and ensure sound judgements and selections ... .are based on fact, not assumptions. What a shambles.

- Diana Mahon (@dianamahon) November 5, 2019

My take is the academy always expect the foreign countries to use their local dialect whereby creating the impression that only Hollywood is better with English movies.Making a good movie like Lionheart 90% local language will be hard for marketers with more than 500 Lang in Nig

- VERIFIED homie (@Homiebishop) November 5, 2019

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