Deepa Mehta‘s Funny Boy, Canada’s official entry for the Oscars, has been disqualified from competing in the best international feature film category “due to the amount of English dialogue in the film,” said Telefilm Canada in a press release on Friday.
Funny Boy is however in consideration for the best picture and general entry categories for the Academy Awards 2021.
The language requirement, which is among the criteria that need to be fulfilled by an international film to qualify for the Oscars in that category, stipulates that a “minimum of half of a foreign film’s dialogue has to be in a language other than English”.
Following the disqualification, Deepa Mehta said, “We were surprised that the film was not able to compete in the Academy’s international feature category, but then were equally surprised and more than thrilled that Telefilm decided to support the submission of the film for best picture and other categories at the Academy Awards. My hope is for ‘Funny Boy’ to continue to transcend expectations with its story of love, courage and compassion.”
Executive director of Telefilm Canada, Christa Dickenson said, “Although we were disappointed when informed by the Academy, we are excited to extend our ongoing support for ‘Funny Boy’ as the journey to the Oscars continue.”
Funny Boy, based on Shyam Selvadurai’s 1994 novel of the same name, is the story of a queer, upper-class Tamil teenager named Arjie. The story is set against the background of the Black July riots of 1983 in Sri Lanka that resulted in the death of 400 to 3,000 Tamils and triggered a bloody civil war between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and the ethnic Tamil minority that lasted 26 years, and sent thousands of Tamils into exile.
“Every step of the way on the Funny Boy journey, has been an important one for myself and the Funny Boy team. The message of the book has always been one of resilience and courage. It seems as if the afterlife of the film follows a similar arc. Each time we reached an impasse, we pushed on leading us to something even better than we could have imagined,” Mehta said.
Many in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora have, however, welcomed this decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In late November, an online petition was filed by one group, the Queer Tamil Collective, on the grounds that, “Mehta’s Funny Boy insults Tamils with the sloppy Tamil spoken in Funny Boy while arrogantly submitting the film as a Tamil language contender at the Oscars.”
Vijay Saravanamuthu, a spokesperson for the Queer Tamil Collective, had earlier told Silverscreen India, that the Tamil accent in the trailer is “the Tamil spoken by the Sinhalese people”. Saravanamuthu said that for him, hearing Tamil spoken with a Sinhalese accent brought back memories of the slaughter of his people during the riots.
Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Releasing picked up the film for distribution in October.
The Canadian Oscar committee had submitted two entries for the International Feature Film category and the second one is currently under review by the Academy, reports Variety.