It’s barely been a week since the Academy announced that Nigeria’s first-ever entry, Lionheart, was disqualified from the International Feature Film Oscar race and this morning came the news that Austria’s entry, Joy, is also being disqualified on the same grounds – too much English.
Adding insult to injury, Joy centers on Nigerian sex workers in Vienna, making the African country completely excluded from competition. Joy premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival and received a January 2019 theatrical release in Austria and a May 24, 2019 American debut on Netflix (ironically, also the distributor of Lionheart). The difference is, Austria is no stranger to this category. They’ve submitted 42 times, won twice (2007’s The Counterfeiters and 2012’s Amour) and have already faced a disqualification in the past – for 2005’s Cache. At the time, the rules stated that a film must be in the language of the country of submission, which Cache was not. Since then, those rules have changed but the rule for amount of English in a film has not. The Academy found that 33% of Joy was not in English (English is the official language of Nigeria and therefore makes sense Joy‘s Nigerian characters would speak it vs German, the national language of Austria).
The Academy rules for the International Feature Film category state that “an international film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”
Earlier this year, the branch changed the name of the category from Foreign Language Film to International Feature Film. “We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” commented Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee.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.”