Oscars disqualify Funny Boy from International Feature race

Deepa Mehta's controversial film will no longer represent Canada in the International Feature category because it has too much English dialogue

Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy is no longer eligible for Oscar consideration in the International Feature Film category. According to a statement from Telefilm Canada, the film did not feature enough Tamil and Sinhala to meet the Academy Awards’ requirement that 50 per cent of the spoken dialogue is not English.

Funny Boy, which adapts Shyam Selvadurai’s 1994 novel, is about a queer Tamil boy named Arjie growing up in Sri Lanka, where he is doubly oppressed for his ethnicity and sexuality. The story takes place across the decade leading up to 1983’s Black July, an anti-Tamil pogrom that killed hundreds to thousands and ignited a war between the state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“The message of the book has always been one of resilience and courage,” says director Deepa Mehta in a statement. “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.”

Telefilm Canada already has an alternative selection for the Academy’s international feature film category, which they will announce shortly. Funny Boy is still being submitted independently to the Oscars, but to compete in all other categories such as Best Picture and Director.

Mehta adds: “This is the heartbeat of Funny Boy, reflected through our beloved Arjie—a graceful determination to be the very best version of ourselves no matter what the obstacles are; to break down preconceived ideas and to shed light into shadows.”

Funny Boy has angered many in the Tamil diaspora due to its lack of Tamil representation and other issues. The main cast consists of actors who are Pakistani-Canadian, Indian or Sinhalese (the majority population in Sri Lanka). The only Tamil representation in the main cast is Nimmi Harasgama, who is also half-Sinhalese.

In an early version of the film, the cast butchered the Tamil language. That mistake is particularly upsetting because Tamil identity is rooted in language, and language was also weaponized in the community’s oppression.

NOW conducted a roundtable conversation with director Deepa Mehta and the novel’s author Shyam Selvadurai to discuss these issues. And since then, Mehta and her team re-recorded some of the dialogue to make some improvements.

Funny Boy is streaming now on CBC Gem.


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