AND THE OSCAR DOES NOT GO TO... Netflix’s first Nollywood original film has been disqualified from Oscars consideration for its English dialogue
7 November 2019
Nigeria’s Nollywood movie industry will be waiting a while longer for its first Academy Award nomination.
Lionheart, the country’s first ever film submitted for consideration in the International Feature Film category, has been disqualified by the Academy for falling short of the non-English dialogue quota, per the category’s requirements.
The film, starring and directed by Genevieve Nnaji, one of Nollywood’s biggest stars, is predominantly in English with only about 12 minutes of the film’s 95-minute run time in Igbo, one of Nigeria’s main local languages. Lionheart is also Netflix’s first original film from Nollywood and while it was available via the streaming platform, it also had a run in local cinemas which met the Academy’s requirement that submitted films must have been exhibited for a minimum of seven consecutive days in a movie theater.
The movie’s disqualification has stirred a debate about how the rule impacts movie industries in countries where English is the official language with 2017 Academy Award nominee Ava Duvernay among leading critics of the decision to disqualify Lionheart. For her part, Nnaji has defended the dominance of English in her movie saying the language “acts as a bridge” between the over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria.
While Nnaji makes a fair point about language diversity in Nigeria, local language Nollywood films are a popular staple across and outside the country even among non-speaking audiences. In fact, much of Nollywood’s productions still happen in local languages and follow the “low-budget, high-volume” formula which depends on revenue channels like television licensing (MultiChoice’s popular Africa Magic channels are known mainly for local language films) and DVD sales—despite piracy, rather than cinema runs for returns.
“English is the official language of the UK, Canada and Australia but they don’t submit films in English for these categories,” says Chris Ihidero, director of popular TV sitcom, Fuji House of Commotion and drama series, Hush. Asking that English Nollywood films be accepted in the international feature film category on the basis of an official language will “do more harm than good” Ihidero says given the likelihood of increased competition from movie industries in larger, more developed markets which also count English as official languages.