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'Less of a Controversy and More of a Misunderstanding,' Oscar Committee Responds to 'Lionheart' Disqualification

"If you're submitting for something as important as an Academy Award, I would think you should look at the rules," says committee co-chair Larry Karaszewski of the backlash surrounding the Genevieve Nnaji film's ineligibility.

The Oscar's International Film Executive Committee has responded to the backlash stemming from the disqualification of Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart—which was Nigeria's first-ever Oscar submission.

Speaking with Deadline, the committee's co-chair Larry Karaszewski, called the situation "less of a controversy, and more of a misunderstanding."

He clarified the Academy's rules, stating that despite the change in name from "Best Foreign-Language Film" to "Best International Feature Film," earlier this year, the rules for the category remain the same: film's must be predominantly in a language other than English. Lionheart, which runs for 95 minutes, contains just 11 minutes of Igbo dialogue.


Despite the confusion, which Karaszewski referred to as a "misconception," the exec claims that the rules had been communicated to overseas participants. "If you're submitting for something as important as an Academy Award, I would think you should look at the rules," he said. "But there are no bad intentions on either side. We would love a film from this country and for it to be part of the process."

Nigeria's selection committee responded immediately after the decision was made on Monday, stating that it would submit non-English dialogue films going forward. It urged "filmmakers to shoot with intention of non-English recording dialogue as a key qualifying parameter to represent the country in the most prestigious award."

"We are not looking to make things ineligible," adds Karaszewski. "I don't think this film was disqualified as much as it was ineligible…it's not a dismissal. It's not like we didn't like the movie, but it would be unfair to other films to not (adhere to) the rules."

According to Deadline, the last film to be disqualified for the same reason, was the Israeli film The Band's Visit in 2007.

Karaszewski's comments, however, do little to address the main concerns of those who spoke out against the Academy's decision. Many pointed out that the film is still distinctively Nigerian despite being in English, and that the dialogue reflects the fact that English is the official language in the country where over 500 indigenous languages are spoken. "English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring the country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language," wrote filmmaker Ava DuVernay in a viral tweet.

A common sentiment shared by those online following the news, was that Nigeria was being punished for being colonized. "It's no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies," wrote director Nnaji on Twitter. "We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian."

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Nana Mensah's 'Queen of Glory' To Screen At The 2021 TriBeCa Film Festival

Ghanaian-American actress, writer and filmmaker Nana Mensah talks tenacity in filmmaking and telling immigrant stories from a joyful perspective.

Much has changed in the time since Nana Mensah first had the idea for her directorial feature debut — a dark comedy about a Ghanaian-American scientist trying to reconcile her family heritage in the wake of her mother's death — and began the Kickstarter in 2014 that would help turn it into a film. It may have taken a few years, but the movie Queen of Glory is now showcasing as part of the TriBeCa Film Festival's 20th edition, with a world premiere set to take place at Hudson River Park on June 15th.

When Mensah began working on the film, she was trying to break into an industry that lacked roles for complex, conflicted characters — particularly for Black women. So, she co-founded a production company with her friend Anya Migdal to create those very kinds of projects. She has since forged a solid stage and screen career, with roles in Netflix's Bonding and 13 Reasons Why, as well as NBC's New Amsterdam, and in theatrical productions alongside the likes of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Anthony Mackie. Last year she was in Ekwa Msinga's Farewell Amor, as well as Apple's Anthology series Little America, and she'll soon be seen in Netflix's The Chair with Sandra Oh this summer and Kogonada's upcoming film After Yang, with Colin Farrell. Yet through it all, Mensah has never lost sight of finishing her first film project.

She opens up about what it took to get the film from a mere idea to the TriBeCa Film Festival.

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Zambian President Edgar Lungu Collapses During Televised Ceremony

Secretary to Cabinet, Simon Miti confirmed that the head of state experienced sudden dizziness during a commemoration ceremony in Lusaka on Sunday.