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Nigeria and Austria’s Oscar Entrys, ‘Lionheart,’ and 'Joy,' Disqualified for Too Much English

The Oscars have long been the film industry's annual main event. The Academy announced that Sudabeh Mortezai’s 'Joy,' Austria's submission to the category, had been disqualified for not meeting eligibility requirements related to its dialogue being predominantly in English. The film, which centers on Nigerian sex workers living in Vienna, mixes Pidgin, English, and German throughout its 101-minute runtime; but despite this, not enough of 'Joy '(only 33% of it, by the Academy's measurement) uses non-English dialogue.

Joy's the second international title to be deemed ineligible on such grounds this year; the first, in a mightly cringeworthy coincidence, was Nigeria's submission, Lionheart, which is primarily in English with some dialogue in Igbo. When the title was deemed ineligible last week, dashing Nigeria's first-ever bid to compete at the Oscars, it set off a fierce debate on social media. Complicating the Academy's decision to disqualify Lionheart is that Nigeria's official language is English.

Critics of the decision pointed out that English is the official language of Nigeria. (Lionheart also includes dialogue in the Nigerian language Igbo.) As director Genevieve Nnaji put it in her response to the Academy’s decision, her use of English in the film is “no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”

As the Academy International Feature Film committee continues to scrutinize its 92 entries to check their eligibility, it has determined that yet another contender has violated its rules about the use of the English language.

According to Hollywood Reporter, the Academy’s reason for the disqualification is because over 50 percent of Austria’s entry, Sudabeh Mortezai’s 'Joy' is in English. Just as it was with 'Lionheart' the disqualification of ‘Joy’ is still based on the best international feature category, which states that its dialogue must not be predominantly in English, which it falls short of.

The movie ‘Joy’ which is a story on Nigerian sex workers living in Vienna, premiered September 3, 2018 at the Venice Film Festival and had a May 24, 2019 American debut on Netflix, which is also the distributor of ‘Lionheart’.