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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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Kayode Kasum’s Quarantine Watchlist

From 'Wives on Strike' to 'Goodwill Hunting' here's what the Nigerian filmmaker is watching while stuck at home in Lagos.

Kayode Kasum, like most filmmakers, has been stagnated by the coronavirus pandemic. The director behind the blockbuster Sugar Rush and the critically acclaimed Oga Bolaji was working on the post-production of his upcoming movies, The Fate of Alakada: Party Planner and Kambili—a collaboration between FilmOne Entertainment and Chinese Huahua Media— when the Nigerian government announced the lockdown order.

While post-production on Alakada has concluded, the stay-at-home orders have delayed work on Kambili. "Since the team cannot meet at a single point, we are moving hard drives left and right," he says to me over the phone from his home in Lagos. "It is a challenge, but the beautiful thing about a challenge is, when you make it work, it is fulfilling."

Still from 'Kambili'

Kasum has turned to books and films for an escape from the unpleasant realities of the pandemic. "I have been reading Elnathan's books: Born on a Tuesday and Becoming Nigeria," he tells me. "I have also been reading film directing books, Directing Actors by Judith Weston." However, Kasum longs for the movies. "I miss going to the cinemas; I miss that experience," he says. "There are times during this pandemic that I'm like 'na wa o, I wish I can go to the cinema.'"

Below are five films he recommends you watch during this pandemic.

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