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Nov 5, 2019

Netflix's 'Lionheart' banned from Oscars for being too English

A television camera focuses on the Netflix Inc. company logo in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

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The first Netflix Inc. original film produced in Nigeria has been disqualified from the best international movie category at the Oscars for “having too much dialogue in English.”

Lionheart, the first Nigerian submission to the U.S. award ceremony in five years, has segments in the local Igbo language but is mainly filmed in English — a legacy of the country’s history as a British colony. Oscar rules stipulate that to qualify as international a film must be “predominantly non-English.”

The decision elicited a furious reaction from director and star Genevieve Nnaji, who said the film was “proudly Nigerian” and the main language was an accident of history.

“This movie represents the way we speak as Nigerians,” she said on Twitter. “We did not choose who colonized us.”

She received support from Ava DuVernay, whose movie “Selma” was the first directed by a black woman to be nominated for the Best Picture award at the Oscars.

“English is the official language of Nigeria,” she tweeted. “Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?”

Lionheart is about a woman who takes over the running of her father’s business when he is forced to give up due to ill health. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was picked up by streaming giant Netflix in January.

The movie is a product of Nollywood, the second-largest film industry in the world after its Indian counterpart, according to a 2017 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The majority of its films are in English, though local-language movies are also popular.

“Going forward, the committee intends to submit films which are predominantly foreign language — non-English recording dialogue,” Nigeria’s Oscar selection committee said in a statement.

The Oscars’ Best International Feature category replaces the Best Foreign Language Film award as of next year’s ceremony. It’s intended to honor films that aren’t released in the U.S.

While a movie in any language can, in theory, win the most prestigious award of Best Picture, no non-English language film has ever triumphed.