A timeline of the first Netflix original film produced in Nigeria is, without a doubt, incomplete with its bag of controversies.
After ‘Lionheart’ was acquired by the global streaming giant, Netflix on September 7, 2018, it became a big deal and many Nigerians looked forward to seeing the film.
After it’s TIFF premiere, the film moved to the Marrakech film festival, where it reportedly dazzled film buffs.
It wasn’t until December 2018 that the film found its way to Nigeria for a premiere ahead of its screening. On Sunday, December 16, 2018, Genevieve's team announced December 21, 2018, as the release date for 'Lionheart' - the first controversy.
For a whole week, the media was in a frenzy over allegations that the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria had refused to distribute Genevieve’s ‘Lionheart,' in December 2018.
It was further gathered that Genevieve’s team had approached a leading exhibitor, who turned the film down saying the team didn’t follow the stipulated and regulated process of securing screening time.
A few hours after the allegations, The CEAN reacted to Genevieve Nnaji's alleged claims on alleged sabotage on the screening of her movie, 'Lionheart.'
In a statement by the Chairman of the association, Patrick Lee, the CEAN stressed that Genevieve and her team refused to secure a spot for 'Lionheart' on the film calendar that is followed by all cinemas.
However, Silverbird Distribution decided to douse the tension by offering to distribute the film across Nigerian cinemas and West African cinemas.
This came as a relief for Genevieve and her team, who had their eyes fixed majorly on the January 4, 2019 premiere of the film on Netflix.
And on December 21, 2019, ‘Lionheart’ began showing in cinemas across West Africa.
As planned and expected, on January 4, 2019, ‘Lionheart’ went global and began screening to subscribers of Netflix across the world.
Nine months after the first controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - producers of the Oscar - has reconstituted a 12-man committee of Nollywood stakeholders ahead of the 92nd edition of the award ceremony in 2020.
The Nigeria Oscar Selection Committee was constituted with Chineze Anyaene emerging the chairperson. A few weeks after, the NOSC called for entries with clearly stated criteria. Some of the films that reportedly made the last cut were ‘Lionheart’, ‘Delivery Boy’ and ‘Mokalik’.
‘Lionheart’ was adjudged Nigeria’s best representative ahead of the 92nd edition of the award ceremony in 2020. And again, comes another controversy.
There were internal rankling by many filmmakers, who disagreed with the NOSC decision. Though none of the filmmakers or practitioners were bold to make their disagreement public or formal, until much later, many accepted their fate and supported the NOSC choice.
‘Lionheart’ made history as the first Nigerian film submitted for a possible Oscar win in the Best International Feature Film category. However, on November 4, 2019, the Academy disqualified the film on the basis that the majority of the film's dialogue is in English and only about ten minutes of the film is in Igbo, a traditional language.
Then comes another controversy.
If the screening of ‘Lionheart’ in cinemas about a year ago had raised any dust, it can’t be as blinding as the dust it raised after it failed to make the final nominations of the 2020 Oscars.
American filmmaker, Ava Duvernay was one of the early callers. “To @TheAcademy, You disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature because its in English. But English is the official language of Nigeria. Are you barring this country from ever competing for an Oscar in its official language?” she wrote.
This led to a back and forth from different quarters on the loss of Genevieve and her film at the awards ceremony. And 15 months after its release, critics are wondering if ‘Lionheart’ is a content that has truly changed the Nollywood narrative or is just another Nollywood film riding on the wheels of controversy for relevance and validation.