Earlier this year, Netflix released its first original film produced in Nigeria – Lionheart. The film tells the story of a young woman who takes over the family business after her father steps back due to health issues. Since its release, the film has racked up rave reviews for its familiarity and has been welcomed by international audiences. From gender to class, the issues tackled in the film are relatable to so many of us.

The film also marked Nigeria’s first-ever submission to the Academy Awards. However, the category – Best International Feature Film – requires the submission to be ‘predominately in a non-English dialogue track.’ The majority of Lionheart is spoken in English, with the exception of 12 minutes that features the Igbo language. On Monday, the Academy decided to disqualify the film from entering.

Despite the strict rules of the category, English happens to be Nigeria’s official language. Director Genevieve Nnaji took to Twitter to express her disappointment, stating that the film represented how Nigerians speak: “We did not choose who colonised us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian,” she said.

She also said: “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.”

Renowned director Ava DuVernay also expressed her outrage on Twitter, asking the Academy: “Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”

Not Foreign Enough

As with many countries in Africa, Nigeria was colonised by Britain until 1960. Unsurprisingly, Britain had influence over the country in several different ways between the 19th and 20th centuries – including its language. Yet despite the use of English in Lionheart, the film remains authentically Nigerian, a fact that the Academy can’t seem to accept.

Ironically, the Best International Feature Film is a relatively new category and replaces the former Best Foreign Language Film category as a way of championing inclusivity. However, the Academy demonstrates that it doesn’t understand the effects of colonialism and still centres a very western idea of what authenticity looks like. Due to colonialism, English is an official language in over 50 countries from Africa to the Caribbean – why does that make any of these countries less foreign?

Language isn’t the only identifier of a foreign nation – its culture, customs, and traditions play a much more significant part, which the Academy might know if more African nations were nominated for its awards. 

Photo credit: Nairaland

Aisha Mohamed