After Mo Abudu’s lobby, Oscars accepts Pidgin English as foreign language

FOLLOWING intense lobbying by the CEO of Ebony Life Films, Mo Abudu, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences now considers Pidgin English as a foreign language for the International Feature Film category of the Oscars.

Being an essential requirement for the International Film category, Abudu, who wants to give the Oscars a shot with her latest movie, ‘Òlòtūré’, actively lobbied to make the Academy accept Pidgin English as a ‘foreign language’.

She opened discussions with the International Features section and later submitted a letter of justification regarding Nigerian Pidgin as a foreign language.

In the detailed letter dated October 15 and sent to the Academy’s headquarters in California, USA, Abudu strongly made a case for Pidgin English used extensively in ‘Òlòtūré,’ a reporter’s expose on human trafficking.

She argued that “Nigeria is home to 200 million people from more than 250 ethnic groups who speak over 400 languages, including widely spoken Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Having been thrown together by colonisation, these various peoples had to create a ‘lingua franca’ that allowed them to communicate mainly for trading purposes and to create diverse communities. Despite English being made the ‘official’ language of Nigeria by the British, Nigerians have continued to communicate within ethnic groups in their native languages and across groups using Nigerian Pidgin.

“Nigerian Pidgin can vary from place to place, with distinctive dialects in cities such as Warri, Sapele, Benin City, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Ajegunle and Onitsha. In some regions of Nigeria, such as the oil-rich Niger Delta, Pidgin is spoken by most people as their first language. Since being used first in colonial Nigeria, Pidgin has been adopted by other countries along the West African coast (Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon) and was spread to slave populations in Jamaica and Barbados, where elements of Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin have been absorbed into the local patois.”

Abudu continued: “Nigerian Pidgin is a fully developed language with its own rich lexico-semantics and syntax, which have evolved like any other language through contact and modification. It reflects productivity, simplicity, acceptability and understanding among a broad spectrum of Nigerians, whose divergence transcends ethnic, religious and class boundaries.2 It has been synthesised from the historically major languages of Nigeria – Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Portuguese and English – and has become “a marker of identity and solidarity. It is an inter-ethnic code available to Nigerians, who have no other common language.”

She further underscored the importance and acceptance of Pidgin by stating that there’s now a BBC Pidgin service for West Africa. At the same time, several Nigerian radio stations broadcast exclusively in Nigerian Pidgin.

Abudu argued further that “It is important not to categorise Nigerian Pidgin as ‘broken English’ or ‘Pidgin English’, as some casual observers do, without understanding that the rules, structure and cadence of Pidgin are very different. When English is poorly spoken by a Nigerian whose first or second language is not English, it does not resemble Pidgin in any way. It would probably be closer to English spoken poorly by a Japanese or French speaker. Well-educated, English-speaking Nigerians still use their Pidgin in conversation with each other, especially when a joke or emotional point needs to be made and standard English will not communicate it adequately. In such discussions, a keen listener would recognise words derived from all of Nigeria’s major languages and, perhaps, a few of the minor ones that reflect the speakers’ ethnic origin.”

She also affirmed the significance of the acceptance of Pidgin English to Nollywood, saying it would energise the industry.

“As many other Nigerian films would benefit from the acceptance of Nigerian Pidgin, as a language, in the future. This would energise many of our filmmakers and infuse our industry with pride, and allow us to compete with our European and Asian colleagues on an equal footing. Without this consent, Nigerians would have to make films in Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa to be eligible, thereby relegating them to minority status within their own country and being unable to use the most widely spoken language in West Africa.”

After considering the merits of her case, the International Features Section consented that Pidgin is a foreign language and have informed the Nigerian Oscar Committee.

Abudu’s next hurdle would now be to pitch ‘Òlòtūré’ to the Committee as Nigeria’s entry for the International Feature Film category of the Oscar Awards.

The Academy disqualified Nigeria’s first-ever Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film, Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lion Heart’ in 2019. The Oscars held that the movie did not have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track”, a crucial eligibility requirement.

But unlike ‘Lion Heart’,  with about only 11-minutes of Pidgin, ‘Òlòtūré’ directed by Kenneth Gyang and featuring a stellar cast including Patrick Doyle, Sharon Ooja, Omowumi Dada, Omoni Oboli, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Kemi Lala-Akindoju, Segun Arinze and Yemi Solade is mostly in Pidgin.

Notably, the acceptance of Pidgin English as a foreign language means that Nigerian filmmakers can submit works in the language for the International Feature Film category and fulfil the country’s dream of an Oscars.


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