Afghanistan’s official Oscar submission, “Utopia,” has been disqualified from this year’s Foreign Language race for containing too much English. According to Academy rules, a foreign language film must possess “a predominantly non-English dialogue track,” and “Utopia,” shot in English and Dari, apparently does not meet that specification.
The disqualification reduces the field from 81 to 80. The news comes too late for Afghanistan to select and submit a replacement, as Israel did with “Beaufort” after Ophir winner “The Band’s Visit” fell afoul of the same regulation in 2007. Of course, the foreign language Oscar race is no stranger to controversy. The current rules, which allow countries to submit a film in any language other than English—for instance, Ireland’s 2016 entry, “Viva,” is in Spanish—were put in place after the 2005 Austrian submission, Michael Haneke’s “Cache,” was disqualified for being in French rather than German, “the official language of the submitting country.”
While “Utopia” was not the leading contender “Cache” and “The Band’s Visit” were in their respective years, the move once again reveals the challenges of applying strict criteria in a production landscape increasingly marked by multiple languages and multinational collaborations. Indeed, “Utopia,” from director Hassan Nazer and screenwriter Amir Agahee, is very much about the porous political and human borders of a globalized world: the film follows Janan, an Afghan woman who travels to the UK for artificial insemination, and the complications that arise when William, a student working at the fertility clinic, switches the donor’s semen for his own.