This is a story that has us intrigued. As you may be aware, one of the biggest and most viewed cinema markets on the continent of Africa comes out of Nigeria. It is so big that it is dubbed “Nollywood”. The stars are massive, The films are massive. It is a HUGE segment on the global marketplace. Massive enough that in 2019, for the first time, Nigeria has entered one of its best films of the year into consideration for an Academy Award.
Lionheart is a story of a young woman, who is her father’s protege’ and heir apparent in a thriving transportation business – or so we thought. The father has a heart attack and names his brother (her uncle) as the one who will run the business until he gets well.
That’s when the shenanigans begin. You can see this film right now on Netflix.
It seems that the film was welcomed to rave reviews and critical acclaim all across the Continent and even in some of the top film festivals around the globe. It features some of Africa’s biggest movie stars including Genevieve Nnaji who also makes her directorial debut with the film.
And so they enter it into consideration for an Oscar. The Best International Film is an important and important category. This is Nigeria’s big step into global recognition right? Not so fast. To everyone’s surprise and dismay, the Academy disqualified Lionheart from consideration because most of the dialogue is in English.
It seems that the Academy’s rules are pretty specific in this category. First the film must be entirely shot and produced outside the US. ok, Lionheart was shot and produced in Nigeria. Second, the film’s dialogue must be in a language other than English . Ok. here is the twist… Lionheart’s dialogue is spoken in English except for 12 minutes where the Igbo language is uttered, however, one must remember that Nigeria’s official language is English. After all, it’s colonizer and indeed the reason there is even a nation called Nigeria is Great Britain (through a corporation called Unilever – more on that another time).
So does that mean that Nigeria will never have a chance to submit a film of excellence into the Academy Awards?
Acclaimed director Ava Duvernay chimed in on the controversy on twitter saying,
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