‘Rebranding’ | Charles Novia’s take on the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards 2016 (READ)

A motley crowd of influential Nollywood practitioners gathered in small groups, down at the Pool Bar at the Eko Hotels and Suites just a few minutes after the 2016 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards ended before 10 pm C.A.T. And as I mingled from one huddle to the other, what one could pick out was a linear shock at some of the twists the awards had thrown up earlier in the evening.

‘Ol’Boy, this award nor too pure this year’ said a top Nollywood Director to me pointedly as if he was a civil servant making a minority report. I shrugged, deciding to be silent just to hear opinions.

‘How on earth could a cooking show win in a category where there were drama series? What the hell was that? ‘asked another Nollywood Producer in anger to even the winner of that category who seemed undecided on what to say.

‘How can ‘small small’ kids in acting, the up and comers be winning the big prizes in acting every year at the AMVCAs consistently? Look am na! E nor pure! These guys just nominate the big names alongside the new ones and then disgrace the old and established actors by giving the awards to people we don’t even know!’ said another established Producer, shaking his head in disbelief.

‘But it is a viewers choice awards’ proferred one of the recognised Jurors in this year’s award. ‘The winners are chosen based on the number of votes they receive from the viewers. That’s how it works. If the old acts go to sleep and expect that their pedigree would win them the awards, then they have no one to blame but themselves when those who worked hard to get votes come out tops’

‘Like I said before, this award nor pure this year’ repeated the top Nollywood Director.

Whilst many established practitioners in Nollywood and other sectors present that night had their own reservations about the fairness of the awards in some categories, in other gatherings, those who won in their various categories were all smiles and busy getting hugs and handshakes as well wishers ( or those with daggers in their hearts too, who knows?) and friends celebrated with them.

There were beaming smiles and polite laughter all over the grounds and as is wont in awards, everyone, no matter their differences identifies with a winner.

Let’s rewind a bit to the beginning of the show so we can have an idea of how the sighs and songs came about.

It’s become an annual tradition for me to review the AMVCAs and this fourth edition held much promise for the clear and undisputable fact that in just four years, with a gradual sense of purpose and media might as well as huge injection of funds, the AMVCAs is now arguably the biggest movie awards event in the continent. And with that perception comes much expectations.

There was the pre-show red carpet event as usual which had many of the guests and celebrities dressed by interesting fashion designers. From my mental calculation at the event, it is likely that nothing less than thirty million naira worth of clothes and accessories must have been made as income for the fashion and make up industry just for this event. Knowing that the scrutiny of the red carpet would be done by the nebulous fashion police we have locally, I always skip the red carpet as much as I can and head straight to the hall for the show every year.

With nominees, guests and celebrities seated in the hall, the show kicked off on the dot by 7.00pm Nigerian time with a performance by The Star Act Dance Company, a troupe which had dancers costumed in an impressive combination of white and gold sashes. The dancers put up a well choreographed  piece which was quite good. I would say this was the best opening sequence so far in all the editions of the AMVCAs. Splendidly done.

IK Osakioduwa and Minnie Dlamini then came onstage as the hosts for the night. Minnie’s attempt to show that she has an understanding of Nigerians through the influence and impact of Nollywood movies got her some applause when she greeted with ‘Igbo Kwenu’.

The Presentation of the  awards began with Chris Attoh presenting the Best Art Director award to Frank Rajah who seemed better prepared this year for his speech than his famous ‘Yvonne Nelson, I give you the glory’ stutter of the year before. Frank won it for ‘Refugees’.

After a couple of award presentation by Ireti Doyle and Gideon, then Ozzy Agu and and Stella Obinwa, there was a musical performance by a Tanzanian singer, Alikiba. He gave a good performance which many in the hall seemed to love as I saw pockets of dancing going on by some guests, possibly those from the Eastern part of Africa.

In introducing Osas and Gbenro Ajibade as the next set of presenters , Minnie called them ‘The Newly Weds’. I did wonder then if Minnie was reading a prepared script or just gushed out her own personal introduction because it’s been months since the couple got married. That wouldn’t qualify for being Newly Weds, if it comes to that.

And that brings me to something I noticed all through. I should think that in a bid to avoid wasting of time and off-scripted monologues, the AMVCAs this year jettisoned the script prompters or any form of scripted cues for the Awards Presenters. Almost all the Presenters came on and went straight to the job at hand. Not a bad idea.

In between the commercial breaks, one which the viewers at home would have been watching the Sponsors messages, a couple of stand up comedians were brought in to thrill the audience before the show went back to the post-commercial segments. Seeing that I always have commented that this should be done in my past reviews, one must commend the organisers for this. The stand up acts kept the audience all smiling and ready when the cameras came back to the show.

And talking about comedians, there were two onscreen stand up comedians for the night, one Thomas Gumede and the other Ugandan called Salvador. Gemede was boring to me and out of place with his jokes. The audience gave him some polite reactions but most times he seemed quite forward with his jokes and was just average. But his Ugandan counterpart, Salvador? Now, that is a funny guy! Without sounding condescending, I actually thought he was going to be as tepid as Gemede when he was introduced but the dude is a natural! He was so on point and had the audience in stitches. He was one of the major highlights of the night.

When Director Stanlee Ohikuare came up onstage to pick up his award for Best Lighting Designer and was giving a speech, he was rudely cut off by the sound guys. I use the term ‘rudely cut off’ because it seemed to be in bad taste at that point, especially as none of the nominees were told by the Producers of the show to keep their acceptance speech short and within a time frame. I stand to be corrected if they were. It’s not so much that he was cut off that was my problem but the abrupt cease of sound on his microphone to the audience in the hall ( and perhaps to the viewers at home) which seemed impolite. What happened to the music cues?

Everything seemed to be going on relatively well from there and sitting near the irrepressible Chi Gurl, the comedienne who was having me in stitches with her funny interjections and off-beat lampoon of the goings-on onstage, was quite an experience. Of course,  when she went up onstage with John ‘Mr Ibu’ Okafor to present the Best Actor in a comedy Award, she and Okafor were very much in their elements with their banter. Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, won that award. Being that he has had a good couple of years so far with his near-nasalized mode of talking which has earned him fame and fans, his getting the award is not in dispute.

Sam Nzeribe won the award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ and he gave a moving speech about how his career was enhanced by the Catholic Church which sponsored his study of the Creative Arts. The audience warmed up to that.

Yemi Alade came up and performed two songs. Her performance was complemented by back up dancers which gave it an aesthetic slant but I couldn’t help thinking that Yemi would need to work on a new hit very soon. It’s inevitable that she would.

There was a glaring omission in the Roll of Honor list which scrolled pictures and names of the artistic departed in the past year. One of the veterans in the television industry in Nigeria and basically among the first five pioneers of the film industry in the seventies as a Producer as well, Jab Adu,  was poignantly missing in the list. That is unforgivable, if you ask me. The popular Bassey Okon of ‘Village Headmaster’way back and Mr Adio in ‘Adio’s Family’passed on a few days ago and the best the research team could have done was to add him to the roll call. He died a day or two after Mike Odiachi, who was in the list mercifully. May his soul rest in peace, as with the others.

The Trailblazer Award went to Kemi Lala Akindoju, a hardworking young lady who has so much to give, after giving so much too, to the industry. She won a car with the prize and gave a good speech which recognised all she was grateful to, including the Directors she has worked with, except one who took a chance too on her years ago, in my opinion. In any case, she deserves the award. No doubt.

The most moving part of the show was the Industry Merit Award presented to Veteran Actress and a sterling ‘Elder Stateswoman’ of the industry, Bukky Zainab Ajayi who was wheeled on to the stage to a standing ovation. She was obviously overwhelmed and gave a tear-jerking speech. There were a many moved people in the hall that night and most eyes were moist when she wept and asked for forgiveness if she has offended anyone in the course of her career. She was so real and natural, wondering if the whole hall was actually standing for her! It was such a beautiful aspect of the night and one which will be unforgettable for a long time.

The surprises of the night were in the Best Actor and Best Actress diadems. A shocked and teary Adesua Etomi won the Best Actress award, flooring the other heavyweights in that category. That set the hall in murmurs and behind the smiles and claps, there was wonder and incomprehensibility. Personally, I have no qualms with Adesua winning that award. I think she is one of the most focused actresses in her generation at present and gives unbelievable attention to her roles. And being a trained thespian, she has range and depth. So, she deserves the award.

The other surprise too was in Daniel K Daniel winning the Best Actor Award, also flooring other heavyweights in that category. I think Daniel is a good actor and that is where I will leave it because I am yet to watch the movie which earned him a nomination and a win. However, there were many in the audience who did not agree with the result. I will come to these aspects in a bit.

Flavour performed and gingered the audience with his two songs. And after that Akin Omotosho won the Best Director award for the movie ‘Tell me something’

The last award of the night was won by Stephanie Linus; the Best Overall movie for ‘Dry’, her movie on VVF. Stephanie won an SUV too with the award and gave a good speech about the Girl Child and even chipped in the Ese Oruru angle in highlighting the problems bedevilling the Girl Child. I think ‘Dry’ is a good movie and Stephanie deserves the award. Any of the movies in that category deserved it though.

The show ended and as the guests moved out of the hall, the little post mortems by a few practitioners began in lobbies and open spaces before the after party.

Here is what I really think.

In areas of organisation, event planning and stage management for this year’s AMVCA, the organisers score an A minus, which is a marked improvement from other editions. However, there is a lot to be desired.

It is about time, in my honest opinion, that AMVCA transmutes from being a Viewers Choice Awards to a REAL juror or Academy driven awards which should enhance the credibility of the voting process. It is all well and good to give the power of choice to the audience which votes for the winners but public voting is populist and not popular in awards such as this. Come on! This is art we are talking about. Elevated art and artistry.

A jury of excellent professionals and perhaps other past winners would suffice here to assess the future categories and pass their judgement without fear or favour. When such happens, even if some may not agree with most of the winners, there would be no groundswell of discontent when the areas of scoring are used. Viewers Choice categories can be retained in a couple of categories though but not the whole gamut of a growing prestigious event like the AMVCA.

It is possible that if the awards become a jury determined award, a rebranding of the name would be inevitable. It is better to start the process now when the award is growing on people than to let it ride for awhile. There’s nothing strange or wrong in rebranding. Hip Hop Awards in Nigeria was rebranded to The Headies and a few other awards too. It is a process of garnering more credibility and sidestepping the collective ‘Bleh’ exclamations now usual in the awards but making sure that the ‘Boom’ of appreciation resonates.

A lot of work and planning obviously went into AMVCA 2016 and congratulations to to everyone. Everyone.

Because the film industry won in the end.

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