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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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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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