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Genevieve Nnaji in “Lionheart.” Image: pulse.ng

Dear Academy, “Lionheart” Is The History Lesson You Lack

#OscarsSoDumb

Nollywood became a huge deal while I was still a resident of New York City, and the rise and rise happened in the early 2000s. Less than a decade later, this Nigerian-American was proudly showing up with friends in tow, for celebratory screenings, located at spacious eateries that introduced newbies to the array of deletable dishes that resembled my childhood diet.

I was born in San Francisco, California, and right after my birth, my Nigerian parents were forced to drive back to the Midwest. Kansas City, Missouri to be exact, after the job opportunity that my dad was banking on, suddenly evaporated.

We settled there until the final move back to Nigeria when I was 8-years-old, and my brother was 4. And the reasoning behind the planned uprooting from all things familiar, was the patriotic allegiance to a homeland that was in no shape to live up to the expectations set forth by my naively optimistic parents, who were committed to a non-existent dream.

Adjusting to our new life in the thriving metropolis of Lagos was not an easy feat for a young girl, who sounded funny enough for relentless mockery by curious classmates. It was hard to assess the complexities of being manufactured in a place that was no longer reality, and then bearing the task of convincing yourself that you are truly a member of a tribe that seems foreign.

The gangster era of the eighties took my parents by surprise, as we accommodated the chaos and mayhem stemming from numerous military coups. The turbulence exacted systemized dysfunction, paralyzing the epicenter of survivability for “the unexposed” who weren’t “prim and proper” enough to afford a first-class education, courtesy of extended periods abroad.

All through my upbringing, my mother spent a lot of time and energy consoling her children with the promise of better days ahead, which had been the long-range goal when my dad barely escaped the brutality of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, to make his entrance into the more civilized shores of America.

The normalized upheavals of an uneven governmental structure was initiated the day Nigeria supposedly gained its independence from British rule on October 1st 1960.

Revered Nigerian author and scholar, Chinua Achebe saved Igboland with his poetic gems like “Things Fall Apart, “No Longer at Ease,” and “Arrow of God” to name a few. The late literary giant mercilessly chided the evils of colonialism, with the ammunition of the very language that was used to massacre an entire nation of Black warriors, who weren’t searching for a lethal replacement to disrupt way of life.

The British were on a mission to make their unwarranted appearance as cloaked “missionaries” and soldiers for Christ, who were motivated by the urgency of spreading the religion of White supremacy for the benefit of securing the lifetime insurance of being able to seamlessly access our prized possessions at the expense of an expendable population.

The Nigerian-Biafran war was activated when tribal disharmony became more hostile. It was evident that the “Northern-dominated federal government” was posing a direct threat to Eastern Nigerian.

And it didn’t help that the oil lucrative section of Niger Delta, served as the instigator, after was clear that the British has cunningly cozied up to the Northerners to protect that primary source of production.

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Local women cleaning up the toxic mess in Ogoniland in Niger Delta. Imgae: Tolani Alli/The Guardian

The bloody war that lasted from 1967–1970 was the season of utter destruction that saw our colonizers supporting the military efforts of the government of Nigeria against Eastern Nigeria. Our soldiers fought under the command of Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, who heroically attempted to lead his people out of the bondage of Whiteness, and away from the parts of our broken country that tried to suffocate our greatness.

We did not succeed in our quest for freedom on the scale that truly registers without the residue of British interference and permanent interests, but the mere fact that we were willing to go the distance despite the formidability of our foe is the endearing testament that continues to elevate my prideful embrace of our cultural legacy.

But that practiced recognition took too long for manifestation.

My parents definitely meant well, but even as they routinely shame their three kids for not being able to speak their naive tongue fluently, there’s a deeper sense of regret and guilt that’s understandably unspoken, due to the impossible assignment of being a roving ambassador for two countries that are vastly different in content.

It was assumed that returning back to our homeland would be the best option for American-born Nigerians, who needed to appreciate the ties that bind before heading back to the luxurious setting of casual opulence, where the functional valves will make us externally grateful for the richness of our Westernized birthmark.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m mature enough to fully grasp the incomprehensible loss that was suffered at the hands of White pirates, posing as distinguished representatives of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and how that polarizing presence set the stage for irrevocable damage that was mandated to ensure the seamless poaching of our natural resources.

Our currency of communication had to undergo a major renovation to fit the criteria of trading for hardened criminals, who shamelessly weaponized biblical verses to furnish the justifications for plotted invasions, that couldn’t be successful unless English was the formalized language for captured natives.

There was also the untreatable scarring of a bountiful land mass, featuring countless settlements of tribes and sub-tribes, that were mercilessly separated by the disfigurement of maps, that were boldly redesigned to highlight passageways for the reachable loot that still keeps Nigeria in complete darkness — centuries later.

For me, and others who can relate to the betrayal of not being able to effortlessly express ourselves in the language that was stolen before we knew it was ours, the nagging remainder is the searing torment that can’t be sweetened by the realization that we’ve at least perfected the English language with flawless precision.

This explains why the recent controversy brimming from the Academy’s ill-advised decision to reject Nigeria’s entry into the international film category, Lionheart, based on the fact that the film falls short of the requirements that dictates a “predominantly non-English dialogue track” — overwhelmingly hits too close to home.

The Netflix distributed offering was shot entirely in Nigeria, and gained a lot of attention when the ambitious streaming giant announced that it was not only advancing worldwide access to Lionheart, but there was also the notable investment in future projects bearing the stamp of Nollywood.

Netflix’s “all-in” approach to Nigeria’s thriving film industry is no surprise when you consider the unwavering addictiveness of loyal fans, who have surely proven the global viability of Nollywood, despite the lackluster productions that have traditionally been hampered by the limitations of low-budget classification.

Actress Genevieve Nnaji is a one of the most recognizable actresses in Nigeria, and her range of talent should’ve her catapulted her into the realm of her more feted White counterparts, but it’s glaringly obvious why she’s been deprived of that rightful status.

That’s why it unbearable to witness her gut-wrenching defeat as the charismatic star, co-writer, and first-time director of a refreshingly progressive tale about a passionate and ambitious Nigerian woman, who has to battle the sexist views of her ailing father and his well-positioned cohorts, who stand in the way of her commitment to save the family business from debt, and the clutches of hovering detractors.

It’s the glowing feminist tale of fighting to win against the odds, with all your heart and soul, and for the love of family, which is the engine that keeps Nigerian families intact — for better or worse.

Lionheart is also heroic in its pursuits because of the insertion of a woman at the core of the struggle, in the midst of the inflexible vibes of a culture that is very much immersed in the misogynistic tones that our beloved mothers had to silently weather during the height of their careers.

It’s a huge fucking deal that this movie was made, and managed to garner the accolades that validated its historic presence amongst other noteworthy fare.

And so of course, the breaking news that suggests that the first-ever Nigerian film to be submitted for consideration in the international best film slot, was promptly denied entry because of the very brief 12-minute dialogue in Igbo, that left the rest of the script in English — bitterly exacerbates the wounds of colonialism that never fail to rear it’s ugly head where it’s not wanted.

Social media platforms erupted in disbelief and rage, as the latest episode of injustice, swiftly unified like-minded activists, who couldn’t ignore the blatancy of executed supremacy by the White establishment.

Apparently the Academy didn’t learn a thing from the genesis of #OscarsSoWhite, and how that movement still doesn’t get the full credit it deserves for the immediate activation of inclusivity — across the board.

It didn’t take long for the industry’s best to express their disapproval with the awful treatment being bestowed on the film that dutifully earned the blessing from Netflix, a feat that’s only reserved for the best of the best.

And as expected, Nigeria’s creative gem, Genevieve Nnaji eloquently maximized her platform by providing the history lesson that the Academy embarrassingly lacks, when you consider how the British ceremoniously left Nigeria under the guise of our “independence” when in actuality we are forever enslaved.

While thanking esteemed director Ava DuVernay for her words of support, Nnaji also took the time to point out how former French colonies were forced to accept French as the official language, which explains why an entry from Senegal would be permitted by the Academy, based on the actors speaking a language that demands subtitles.

The actress and budding filmmaker is also correct when she says that Nigeria didn’t choose to be colonized by English-speaking invaders, and furthermore, Lionheart, is as Nigerian as it gets, when you consider the engaging location that fascinates non-natives, and the vibrant characters, with delightful accents that don’t hint at the accused Englishness.

There’s also the unavoidable dilemma of how our homeland is populated with more than 500 languages that comprise of sub-tribes within main tribes. This has been the source of never-ending strife, that was purposed by the venom of White supremacy, and how those tendencies destroyed the tangible primal tattoos that were replaced with the sorrows of our existence.

Nothing good can be wrought from the violent occupation of non-threatening functionality that had to be savagely defaced for the sake of Whiteness, and how Blackness had to be vilified for their absolute power in order for the epic takeover to commence.

The Academy has to reevaluate the real reason why Lionheart isn’t “foreign” enough for admittance. And that will take a thorough exploration into the chasms of historical fodder, that houses the secrets and lies that must be exposed in order to reboot this new reign of international relations in entertainment.

Perhaps this will be the Academy’s prime opportunity to rewrite the rules, by wisely condemning the outdated schemes that don’t add value to the growing roster of talents, who are more than capable of presenting an authentic picture of Nigerians in Nigeria, even with communication skills that colonial masters assaulted for profit.

If Whiteness can prosper from legacies of theft that fund the Western world’s pricey indulgence, then Blackness should be able to benefit from the same blueprint that contains our pain.

Lionheart isn’t an English film.

It’s a beautiful story that all Nigerians should enjoy, along with the sisters and brothers, who also speak the same language due to a common trauma.

This concept is foreign to Whiteness and for that reason alone, we need the Academy to do the right thing, and revitalize what was wrongfully discarded.

If not, #OscarsSoDumb will be the next anthem.

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