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Oscars 2020: Why Genevieve Nnaji’s “Lionheart” Was Disqualified

Oscars 2020: Why Genevieve Nnaji’s “Lionheart” Was Disqualified

The curtains have fallen on Nigeria’s hope of earning its first Oscars nomination at the Oscars 2020 following the Academy’s disqualification of Nigeria’s submission “Lionheart“, The Wrap reports.

“Lionheart” which is Genevieve Nnaji’s first directional debut was submitted to race alongside 92 other films in the Best International Feature Film category.

However, in an email sent to voters on Monday, the Academy announced that “Lionheart” was ineligible because of its excessive use of the English language which violates the Academy’s rule for entries into the Best International Feature category.


The Best International Feature Film category has certain requirements which must be fulfilled before a film can be submitted. Some of them are:

  • The film must have been first released in the country submitting it, after which it must have been exhibited for a minimum of 7 consecutive days in a movie theatre
  • The film must be predominantly non-English which means that movies with predominant English dialogue will not qualify for the award
  • The film must not be transmitted electronically or otherwise before it’s official release in the theatre

Lionheart met every other requirement except language. In its 94 minutes run, “Lionheart” has less than 12 minutes of Igbo language.

Reacting to this news, American filmmaker Ava Duvernay took to her Twitter page to criticize the Academy’s decision:

“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?”

Meanwhile, Genevieve has reacted to the disqualification in her response to Duvernay’s tweet:

“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

“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”

The Nigeria Oscar Selection Committee (NOSC) also responded to the development. NOSC Chairperson  Chineze Anyaene in a statement said:

The budding Nigerian film industry is often faced with producing films with wide reach which often makes the recording dialogue predominantly English with non-English infusions in some cases.

Going forward, the committee intends to submit films which are predominantly foreign language – non-English recording dialogue. We are therefore urging filmmakers to shoot with intention of non-English recording dialogue as a key qualifying parameter to represent the country in the most prestigious award.

The committee is working tirelessly in organizing workshops, seminars and using other available media to create robust awareness on the guidelines and requirements for an International Feature Film Entry.

Lionheart passed on other technical requirements from story, to sound and picture except for language as adjudged by the Academy screening matrix, which was a challenge for the committee at a time.  This is an eye opener and step forward into growing a better industry.”

In Lionheart, Adaeze—the only daughter (a symbolic position in a traditional Eastern Nigerian’s family) is entrusted with managing the family’s multi-billion naira transportation and logistic business when her father falls ill. Working alongside her uncle, she seeks to prove her worth in a male-dominated industry while also bridging the gaps created by the mutual suspicions and distrust that come with ethnic bias.
Lionheart was produced by Chinny Onwugbenu, Chichi Nwoko, Genevieve Nnaji, and directed by Genevieve Nnaji. It premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was acquired on September 7, 2018, as the first Netflix original film produced in Nigeria.
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