The furor surrounding the recent disqualification of the Nigerian film, ‘Lionheart’ from the Academy Awards is still playing out in the public domain.
There have been several opinions on the issue; some educated and others, outright emotional outbursts.
First is the reaction of those, including the producer of the film Genevieve Nnaji, that since Nigerians could not have chosen their colonial master, which made English the official Nigerian language, it was wrong for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences AMPAS to disqualify a Nigerian film produced in English.
There are those who have also argued that the film was disqualified for other reasons, but that the Academy simply wanted to be diplomatic. A few correct voices have come out to say that for the category for which ‘Lionheart’ was entered, English language was not allowed.
Nigerians must first understand what the Academy Awards popularly known as the Oscars is all about. It started informally in 1929, when the first award was presented on May 16th of that year. Since then, the Oscars have undergone several metamorphoses.
The category for which ‘Lionheart’ was entered; the Best International feature(Foreign Language) Film was first awarded in 1957. Before then, foreign language films only merited Special Achievement Awards.
The general category of the Oscars are awarded to films in English Language no matter where they are produced, but which were screened in America and must have opened at midnight of 1st January of the previous year to midnight at the end of 31st December in Los Angeles County, and play for 7 consecutive days.
The international category was only introduced as a complementary award to films screened in other lands and in languages other than English. It must also be a country’s official nomination.
What the above means therefore, is that Nigerian films shot in English can enter for the general categories of the Oscars, as long as they meet the above criteria; being screened in Los Angeles County as prescribed above.
This is how Indian films like Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi won the Oscars and worldwide acclaim. Films produced in the UK, Canada, Australia and other English speaking countries have entered these categories and won many awards in the past.