For Nigerian filmmakers, the year began with news from the 2020 Oscars that shook the industry. The country’s Academy Award entry, Lionheart, was controversially disqualified for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category on the grounds that most of the dialogue was in English.
Fast-forward to last month and Nigerian filmmakers have reason to celebrate as two of their peers, Akin Omotoso and Genevieve Nnaji, were selected as members of the 2020 class of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Their inclusion is very hopeful news for the country, and a sweet reprise for Genevieve who wrote, directed and starred in Lionheart.
Nigeria’s position was aptly summarised by renowned American filmmaker Ava DuVernay when she wrote on Twitter:
“To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because it’s 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?”
On the other side of the debate, the Academy’s International Feature Film executive committee co-chair Larry Karaszewski dismissed the issue as “less of a controversy, and more of a misunderstanding,” adding that, “If you’re submitting for something as important as an Academy Award, I would think you should look at the rules.”