This is becoming an issue that is hard to ignore. “Joy” is the second film related to Nigeria, either by subject matter or country of origin, of note, that has been disqualified by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, most commonly known as The Academy or the home of the Oscars. The film highlights the accounts of sex workers, who are living in Vienna, who are also Nigerian.
Although the work was submitted by an Austrian filmmaker, the subject matter is completely reliant on a Nigerian storyline. This complicates the category of the film at face value. The filmmaker is Austrian, the storyline is about Nigerian sex workers, and the setting is in Vienna. So whose film is it? Based on the category, Foreign Language Film, which the Academy renamed to International Feature Film this year, in 2019, the requirements are as follows:
“The category name change does not change any existing category rules, the submission process, or eligibility requirements. An international feature film is defined as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track. Animated and documentary feature films are permitted. Only one film is accepted from each country as the official selection.”
Thus, this film is not Nigerian, it is Austrian, because it is produced “outside the United States of America” in Austria. The fact is, this film’s Nigerian rooted storyline does not factor in it being called a Nigerian film. The problem with this film and “Lionheart” is that each film’s dialogue track was not predominantly non-English. The category takes no account in whether or not the official language of the country is used or not. It only matters that it is predominantly not in English and the film is produced outside the U.S. It seems that the rules of the category may need to be revisited. The Academy has come a way in wanting to rename the category, citing that,
“We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” commented Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee. “We believe that International Feature Film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”
Now that English is one of the most prominent tongues in the world, and is the official language of over 50 countries, maybe it is time to reevaluate the International Feature Film category. Indeed, it could be argued that there should be two International categories, one for those predominantly in English, and one for those predominantly in another tongue. This seems to be what is needed.