Deepa Mehta’s “Funny Boy” will no longer compete in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category and will instead be submitted for consideration in the best picture and general entry categories.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has informed “Funny Boy” producer Telefilm Canada that the film does not meet the Academy’s eligibility requirements for the international feature film category due to the amount of English dialogue in the film.
“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,” said Christa Dickenson, executive director of Telefilm Canada.
Based on the best-selling novel by Shyam Selvadurai, the film follows a young boy’s (Arjie) sexual awakening in Sri Lanka during the turbulent Tamil-Sinhalese conflict leading up to the civil war. Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Releasing picked up the film for distribution in October.
“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,” said Deepa Mehta.
“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.”
Though the category was renamed international feature from the previous foreign language film, language is a huge part of eligibility criteria. The Academy rules for the category state: “An international film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America and its territories with a predominantly (more than 50%) non-English dialogue track.”
Large swathes of “Funny Boy” are in the English language. Of the remaining languages in the film, much of it is in Tamil, with a smattering of Sinhala.
However, the type and accent of Tamil — a language that varies significantly wherever it is spoken, from India to Sri Lanka to Malaysia, Singapore, and further afield — spoken in the film has caused a backlash against Mehta and her team among the diaspora Tamil community worldwide. Another cause for controversy has been the fact that many of the actors playing Sri Lankan Tamil parts are not Sri Lankan Tamil, including Brandon Ingram playing the adult Arjie, who is from the Sri Lankan Burgher community.
Mehta has defended her choice. “While casting Arjie in ‘Funny Boy,’ it was important to me that the actor was gay,” Mehta told the Livemint newspaper. “In Sri Lanka, where being queer still bears a criminal charge, casting an openly gay Sri Lankan was most important. Arjie’s coming out had to be visceral, it had to go beyond acting. I wish we could have found the right Tamil actor but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Exceptionally this year, the Canadian Oscar committee submitted two choices, and this other film was kept confidential in case of ineligibility. Currently, this second film is under review by the Academy, and will be announced imminently.
“Funny Boy” is currently available in Canada on CBC Gem, and on Netflix in the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.