Oscars: Academy Disqualifies Afghan Foreign Language Entry 'Utopia'

UTOPIA Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Nay Media

What's an Oscar season without controversies surrounding foreign language submissions?

Joining a long line of other films that have been penalized over the years for failing to meet the Academy's strict standards, Afghanistan's entry for the current race, Hassan Nazer's Utopia, has been disqualified for not being quite foreign enough, THR has confirmed with the Academy.

The film, a Babel-like drama involving three intersecting stories, failed to meet the requirement of rule 13, section A of the Academy's "Special Rules for the Foreign Language Film Award," which states that "A foreign language film is... a predominantly non-English dialogue track." In other words, Utopia features too much English on top of its Dari-language content.

Earlier this season, submissions by China and Panama were also rejected by the Academy, but early enough in the process that replacement submissions were accepted. That, at this late date (its official Academy screening was set for Nov. 12), is not an option available to Afghanistan, which will now certainly remain without an Oscar nomination for another year, despite making 10 submissions to the Academy since 2002, the year after the U.S. invasion of the south-central Asian nation. Utopia may have offered the nation its best shot yet: after opening in Afghanistan in July, it screened just a couple of weeks ago at the Asian World Film Festival in Los Angeles, where star Malalai Zikria claimed the best actress prize.

The Academy's rules pertaining to the foreign language Oscar have frequently been the subject of debate in recent years. Michael Haneke's Cache, the Austrian submission in 2005, was disqualified because it was not "predominantly shot in the official language of the submitting country," but rather in French. The controversy that ensued over that — as well as the virtually simultaneous disqualification of Italy's submission of the Arabic- and Hebrew-language film Private — prompted the foreign language committee to enact a rule change the following year that made any language acceptable in a foreign language submission — hence Canada's submission of a Hindi-language film in 2007 (Water) and Australia's of a German-language film in 2012 (Lore).

Any language, that is, except English.