Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar submission for best international feature film has been disqualified by award organisers, sparking criticism from its director.
Films in this category, formerly best foreign language film, must have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track”.
However, the 95-minute film Lionheart is largely in English, with an 11-minute section in the Igbo language.
Director Genevieve Nnaji said the film represented how Nigerians communicate.
The disqualification of the film by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was announced to voters in an email on Monday, according to The Wrap.
Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and A Wrinkle in Time, questioned the decision on Twitter, pointing out that English is Nigeria’s official language.
Ms DuVernay became the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of more than $100m in 2016.
Ms Nnaji, who directed and starred in Lionheart, thanked Ms DuVernay for speaking out, saying the film “represents the way we speak as Nigerians”.
She added: “This includes English which acts as a bridge between the 500+ languages spoken in our country.”
In another tweet, she said: “We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian”.
English is still the official language of Nigeria because of British colonisation, which lasted for nearly a century until independence in 1960.
Lionheart, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is about a Nigerian woman trying to keep her father’s company together in a society dominated by men.
The best foreign language film category was changed ahead of the 2020 awards to best international feature film, with the Academy saying that the reference to “foreign” was “outdated within the global filmmaking community”.
A record 93 countries submitted entries to be considered in the international category this year.