Recently, A group of Nigerian Movie Stars visited the United States of America. By the time they traveled to Washington DC and returned to New York City, word had gone round that they were in town. Fans of these actors/actresses from around the tri-state area were in abundance to meet and interact with their idols whose home movies they have repeatedly watched (though mostly through boot-leg/pirated copies). The venue at The Marriott Hotel where the reception was held was full to capacity despite the $50.00 ticket per head.
Incidentally, the night did not last long for the excitable fans who waited long into the night before having a glimpse of a few of their idols. About a few minutes into the presentation of the actors/actresses, there was an uncontrolled rush by the fans to reach the stars on stage. Fearing for their lives, the overwhelmed actors/actresses withdrew from stage as the crowd of fans persistently surged towards them. For a few fans the momentary glance was better than nothing. For many others, the event was a flop, and they demanded immediate refund of their money since they did not get to meet and spend time with their idols.
Most of the actors and actresses were surprised that they will be mobbed in the United States unlike in Nigeria. Some of them took it in stride and wisdom. It is hoped that the fanfare did not carry some of the stars away. However, casual opinion poll results indicate that most of the stars like Olu Jacobs, Emeka Ike, Omotola Jolade Ekeinde, Francis Onwochie, and many others were outstanding in their humility despite the excitement of the crowd about seeing them. Many Africans resident in the United States saw the behavior of the crowd as an insult and distanced themselves while some others did not care.
While the Nigerian Movie stars came to the United States, got mobbed, and may have returned to Nigeria, it is pertinent to ask if there are any underlying implications in the manner they were received. Is there more than the mobbing that many witnessed? What are the latent lessons for the African movie industry, theater, culture, and entertainment business in general?
Two previous articles that I had written before the visit of the Nigerian movie Stars to the United States might appear to be prophetic with regard to the preceding questions. In "Compensation of The African Artist," I had said:
"...one would wonder why little recognition has been given to African Artists, arts and entertainment when compared to the accolades and awards showered on their Western counterparts. Despite the richness of talent possessed and displayed by the African artist, it is still difficult to place an African artist side by side (financially) with other renowned artists of the world. Yes, Africans have won a few awards here and there for their great artistic works but is the African artist recognized for his worth and value?"
How far these stars have gone to win the hearts of fellow Africans is evident in the warm reception they received from such Africans when they visited the United States.
In another related piece titled "Suggestions For The Sustenance of African Artistic Heritage," I had mentioned the impact of Nollywood in today's African entertainment regeneration. I had gone on to say:
"The happy throng of fans in Sierra Leone pleasantly mobbed the Nigerians and accorded them a Presidential hospitality. Such is an example of how some Africans show their appreciation of their own. It is perhaps proper to mention here that African Artists will not receive such warm reception from the American public in The United States, at least not for now. Why then the craze for Hollywood? Nollywood is surviving by itself and Nigerian filmmakers are extending their activities to Sierra Leone in helping to build the film industry there."
True to their African nature, Africans in the United States did come out to welcome their stars but did the American general population show the same support or was it only an African affair? It is perhaps important to mention at this point that most of the fans that trooped to the Marriott in New York to see the Nigerian Movie Stars were not only Nigerians. In fact they were mostly Africans from other countries than Nigeria. However, the underlying question is: How many Americans were there? Many Americans enjoy African entertainment, but how many of them were eager to meet the Nigerian Movie Stars? How many state or federal officials were there? How many American mainstream newspapers or televisions carried the news of these stars in their prominent columns?
Some have argued that the organizers may not have reached out to the American media, but need the American media be begged to cover an event that featured a conglomeration of Africa's promising movie industry talents? Like I had emphasized in the two articles I cited above, we Africans have to recognize our own in the proper way if we want the world to recognize us. Recognition does not simply mean to take pictures with our African stars or to interact with them. It goes beyond that. To start with, we must encourage their works by buying or paying for their works at reasonable prices and from genuine sources. If we love these stars, we should buy their tapes at a price that will put some money in their pockets. We should start our Awards Night like the Oscars. We need not wait for the Oscars to recognize our talents. We have to think of building our version of Hollywood.
With due respect, the organizers of Western Merit/performance Awards like the Oscars and the Globe, may not recognize the cultural essentials in an African artistic performance. The Tribeca Film Festival just started in Manhattan and the news is all over. Big names such as Robert Deniro and a host of others were there to open it. Radio and television stations announced its arrival over and over, and they are still reporting on it. Meanwhile, almost nothing is heard about the African Film Festival that started weeks ago in the same Manhattan. Apart from a few African Magazines such as www.AfricanEvents.com and www.AfricanTheaterUSA.com that announced and gave coverage to the event, other National media channels have been relatively moot about it though we had some big African Films and Filmmakers in the schedule.
Granted, a few African American stars such as Ossie Davis made effort to identify with the stars from Nigeria, it is not clear however, whether any significant number of the stars utilized the networking opportunities provided by the trip. I am sure some of the stars made their connections while some may have been more interested in the fanfare. This piece addresses the professional welfare of the African artist and it will amount to a failure of service if it fails to caution any of the stars wishing to stay back in the United States not to base such decision merely on the impression of the crowd that cheered and yearned to see and touch them during the trip. When the dust settles, the American environment will play itself out as the leveler it is, and such artist would most likely have to pay his/her dues to get back to the top.
After all said and done, one good side to the clamor for the Nigerian Movie Stars on their visit to the United States is the fact that the stars now know how much influence they could wield and how much impact they could make with their work as movie makers, producers, directors, actors, and actresses. Perhaps now, they can wake up to the fact that the Nigerian movie Industry is such a useful channel in the exportation and dissemination of African culture through entertainment. Younger Africans who are Africa's future in this part of the Diaspora dominated the crowd at the Marriott. What they learn from those Nigerian movies they love to watch go a long way to help build their understanding of African culture, especially for those who are not able to visit Africa or live in it to learn the African culture.
Nigerian (African) movies can no longer afford to be only commercial oriented without a good African cultural message. Africans all over the world hold the Nigerian movie industry in high regard. So, Uncle Olu Jacobs, brother Zack Orji, my friend Fred Amata, and all others who witnessed the Marriott experience, we have to get back to the drawing board. The work has just begun.
©2004 Oliver O. Mbamara
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is a filmmaker, director, and actor with such films to his credit as "THIS AMERICA,” “SLAVE WARRIOR," and "SPADE: THE LAST ASSIGNMENT," which he wrote and directed. He is also a judge with the New York State office of Administrative hearings. For more about Oliver O. Mbamara please visit www.OliverMbamara.com