Over the years the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) has shown it is not interested in assessing elements of quality filmmaking. Instead what it seeks to do is stamp celebrities with the title “award-winning”. The better if those celebrities feature frequently on the Africa Magic channels.
Still the nominations for this year have to be the worst since the award scheme showed up in 2013. If it was a bad year for Nollywood in 2017, the AMVCA organisers have managed to be worse. An incredibly low bar has been breached.
It seems about right to say that the organisers of the AMVCA do not understand that major awards for the creative industry are extensions of the critical system. A film that receives negative reviews across board upon release has no business featuring prominently at an award ceremony. And it is here that the relative absence of decent criticism in Nollywood and other Nigerian creative spaces is undermining our country’s push for excellence. To take the basic of requirements, if much of what passes for criticism is in badly written sentences, how can anyone take it seriously?
And yet, the AMVCA must bear the brunt of its own deplorable choices—it, after all, has a jury that is supposedly aware of what should pass for award-deserving filmmaking. But, of course, nobody should believe that members of that jury have a discerning sensibility if a film as bad as Alter Ego has received a whopping 10 nominations, and one as good as Ojukokoro has received two nominations in sound editing and make-up.
Alter Ego was supposed to mark a return to acting for Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, but after scene upon scene where neither director Moses Inwang nor star actress seemed aware of their story’s purpose, I began to think Nollywood was better off without one of its marquee performers. The much publicised sex scenes seemed to have been put together by a group of people who have never actually had sex. The one constant onscreen presence in all of these scenes is Jalade-Ekeinde, who seems to believe that playing a nympho means producing a series of risible grimaces while fucking. At no point obviously did Inwang think that it might be possible to actually get some actual acting from his star actress.
But the AMVCA has rewarded Inwang and Jalade-Ekeinde with nominations. Makes you wonder: At a time a prominent Nigerian producer could ask President Emmanuel Macron of France about how Nollywood might win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is Alter Ego the type of film we want to present to the world as multi-nominated—or, God save us, award-winning? I don’t think so.
As though the AMVCA intends to outdo its own silliness, it has handed 11 nominations, including two best supporting actress nods, to Tatu, a much more ridiculous film than Alter Ego. Maybe the C in AMVCA should stand for Crap.
On the other hand, the remarkable Ojukokoro, one of a handful of well-written films to have come from new Nollywood, has been snubbed in the acting, directing, and writing categories. This is just as troubling for the industry and maybe even the country because it means that excellence would go unrewarded.
Dare Olaitan’s film elevated the Nigerian vernacular into art; its actors, especially Seun Ajayi, produced their best performances in years; its script took an innovative approach to character perspectives—and for all of these it gets no nomination in any of the major categories. In what can only be viewed as a travesty, Shawn Faqua’s impressive interpretation of a lowlife criminal in Ojukokoro goes unrewarded, but Adesua Etomi’s dull doll role beside comedian AY in 10 Days in Sun City gets a Best Actress nod. Both Faqua and Etomi must have been surprised but for different reasons.
In a previous piece, I wrote about how Africa Magic brought gloss to Nigerian television and then rewarded its glossy acting products with awards which only made them glossier and hence more award-worthy, so that the cycle continues. This Ouroboros of bad rewarding bad has dire consequences for a system seeking excellence. And there can only be one of two solutions: either the AMVCA becomes better, or a more deserving award scheme comes on the scene.
Because Africa Magic is first and wholly a commercial entity, I’d be backing the latter option. Maybe then a film like Alter Ego can go where bad movies go to die quietly and films like Ojukokoro can receive the awards they deserve.