TORONTO — Telefilm Canada says Deepa Mehta's "Funny Boy" has been disqualified from competing for best international feature film at the Oscars because it falls short of the non-English language requirements.
The Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences notified Telefilm that Mehta's coming-of-age story, originally billed as being mostly in the Tamil language, doesn't meet the criteria.
According to the Academy's rules, best international feature contenders must be produced outside the United States with more than 50 per cent in non-English dialogue.
But a representative for the Oscars provided figures that showed "Funny Boy" came in far below those targets with only 37 per cent in other languages.
Based on its running time of one hour and 49 minutes, only 12 minutes and 27 seconds were in either Tamil or Sinhala, compared to 20 minutes and 58 seconds of English dialogue, the Academy said.
Telefilm summed it up as a "discrepancy" between the Academy and producers who were required to ensure their film reached the bar to qualify.
"Clearly we thought we met the eligibility requirements for the international category, but we respect the decision of the Academy," said producer David Hamilton in an email statement to The Canadian Press.
Telefilm said it plans to submit "Funny Boy" for consideration in the best picture and best screenplay categories as an alternative to its original Oscar campaign.
The announcement is a setback for "Funny Boy," which faced controversy surrounding its recent release on CBC Gem in Canada and stateside through a deal between Ava DuVernay's distribution company and Netflix.
Based on the award-winning Canadian novel by Shyam Selvadurai, "Funny Boy" traces the story of a Tamil boy growing up gay in Sri Lanka during the deadly Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in the 1970s and ’80s.
Mehta's decision to cast non-Tamil and non-Sri Lankan actors in key roles drew ire from some viewers who suggested it was further erasure of the oppressed Tamils.
She defended some of her casting choices as being made largely "due to family issues and visa problems" that prevented others from participating in the production.
Still, "Funny Boy" won praise that included a spot on the Toronto International Film Festival's best-of-the-year list.
Mehta said she was "surprised" by the Academy's decision to pull the film from the international competition.
“Every step of the way on the 'Funny Boy' journey has been an important one for myself and the 'Funny Boy' team," she said in a statement.
"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."
Telefilm said it will soon announce a replacement film to represent Canada in the international feature category.
This year, the voting process for its international feature submission changed due to the pandemic and two choices were picked. The second film is under review by the Academy, Telefilm added.
Qualifications for the international feature Oscar category have become a point of contention for a number of films that have been submitted by their representative countries and then deemed ineligible by the Academy.
This week, the organization declined Portugal's entry "Listen" for falling short of the requirements too, while last year Nigerian film "Lionheart" ended up disqualified for being largely in English, even though English is the official language of Nigeria.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.
David Friend, The Canadian Press