Nigeria's Oscar Disqualification Fuels Push for Films in Native Languages

24 November, 2019

Nigeria's Oscar Committee is urging Nigerian filmmakers to make more films in native languages. While some in the country's film industry like the idea of movies in more native languages, others argue that non-English films have limited outreach.

The discussion comes after the U.S. Academy Awards rejected a Nigerian entry in the International Feature Film category. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disqualified the film because too much of it was in English.

Nigeria's Oscar Disqualification Sees Push for Films in Native Languages
Nigeria's Oscar Disqualification Sees Push for Films in Native Languages

Nollywood filmmaker Desmond Utomen hopes to win an Academy Award, known as an Oscar, by making a film in a native Nigerian language.

"It's actually a Hausa-based film, so it's a language film, it's not English. I've done a couple of them in English but, that's actually my first film in Hausa,' he says.

Most Nigerian filmmakers produce English-language movies to reach moviegoers around the world as well as inside Nigeria, where English is the official language.

Filmmaker Darlington Abuda has been working in the country's movie industry, known as Nollywood, for years.

"In Nigeria, if I do a purely language film, I have made my film a regional film," Abuda says. "It will not get the appeal and audience (response) that it needs in the other parts of the country."

But that may be changing since the U.S. Academy Awards this month refused Nigeria's first entry in the International Feature Film category.

Only 11 minutes of Genevieve Nnaji's Lion Heart - the first Nollywood film by Netflix - was in the native Igbo language. To be considered for the feature film award, at least 50 percent of a movie's dialogue must be in a language other than English.

C.J. Obasi is a member of a Nigerian Oscar committee which was set up five years ago. While the rejection was criticized in Nigeria, he believes that Nigeria is on the right path.

"If you look at the bigger picture, you realize that it's a victory in that we made a submission for the first time ever," Obasi said. "What that does is that it re-positions the hearts and minds of filmmakers as to how we are going to tell our stories moving forward."

Nigeria's Oscar Selection Committee says the rejection should motivate Nollywood filmmakers to create more movies in the country's over 500 native languages.

But persuading Nigerian filmmakers to turn away from English will be difficult because it is the language that ties the country together.

And, for some Nollywood filmmakers like Jim Iyke, the language used is not the point.

"If someone sits in their living room and decides where my movie should be...or what awards I should get, that is on them," Iyke said. "I've done my job. I've fed the artist in me."

Lion Heart will not be under consideration when the U.S. Academy Awards are announced in February 2020. However, the support of Netflix and Oscar's rejection are already bringing a lot of attention to Nollywood and the work of Nigerian filmmakers.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Timothy Obiezu reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

category – n. a group of people or things that are similar in some way

regional – adj. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

audience – n. the people who watch, read, or listen to something

dialogue – n. the things that are said by the characters in a story, movie, play

submission – n. an act of giving a document, proposal, piece of writing, etc., to someone so that it can be considered or approved : an act of submitting something