The Night Nollywood and Online Creators Collided at the AMVCAs (with Photos)

Ramsey Nouah with the Best Director trophy
Oga Sabinus was named winner of the online

One of the unlikely highlights of this year’s 8-day Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards extravaganza came before the main event. The venue was usual suspect Eko Hotel — but at one of its smaller halls. And the event was the Hollywood Brunch. The event’s host, Kemi Akindoju, had just introduced Dr. Busola Tejumola to attendees when it happened: a sustained round of applause — of the kind you might find after a particularly splendid film premiere. Only this time, it was mostly the stars themselves doing the clapping.

Naturally, it was tempting to attribute the lengthy applause to Dr. Tejumola belonging to Africa Magic’s parent company but it became clear later, as people joshed during lunch, that MultiChoice’s executive head of content and West Africa channels just happens to be quite liked by people in the film industry, maybe for her beauty, maybe for her brains, maybe for her ultra-sunny disposition. But, of course, Akindoju had to take the bait: she joked about money exchanging hands. The hall erupted in laughter.

What followed proceeded in a similar spirit of joviality. The main event, the contest, after all, was a couple days away and here was an opportunity for Nigerian filmmakers to rub minds with those much closer to the undisputed centre of the global film industry.

It occurred to me that away from the pull of Hollywood, there were two interconnected platforms really at play that afternoon: Nollywood and Showmax. The former had managed to find its way across the world with little help from technology and the latter had deployed high-tech right from the start to meet people the world over. Both had now met and were seeking ways of optimising each other’s business.

Onstage, one of the Hollywooders — a group comprised of Tasha Smith, Sidra Smith, Bayo Akinfemi, Grant Housley, and Brandon Michael Hall — brought the house down after warning the audience that she was about to brag, which she proceeded to do, ending her list of achievements with a simple declaration: she was, she said, “still dreaming,” which clearly meant she was still itching to get to the actual centre of Hollywood.

It was pretty much the same with Kate Henshaw, one of the session’s Nollywooders. Prompted by the host, she said her dream of getting featured in a major Hollywood production was not over. Perhaps that dream will begin with a collaboration with one of the Smiths who shared the stage with Henshaw? Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see.

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Watching the conversation onstage was a reminder of the heavy pull of Hollywood on the human imagination globally. Filmmakers in the US have the major Hollywood dream. Ditto those in Nigeria. That is the nature of a place that is paradoxically super-visible and super-exclusive.

But, while everyone waits for that phone call or email, one of the things that Africa Magic deserves its own spectacular applause for is its doubling down on African content way before most platforms saw the light. Naturally, this has opened it to criticism: if you’re dreaming about Hollywood and the Big 3 festivals, Africa Magic is not the traditional route.

But that is a feature not a bug insofar as it has boosted the continent’s film economy and led to opportunities for homegrown actors, actresses, directors, cinematographers, and other film workers. It even made stars — and what is more star-affirming than an award ceremony?

And so it was that on Saturday 14 May, all Lagos roads (well, maybe some of them) led to the crown jewel of the Africa Magic entity, the AMVCA ceremony. Two years ago, back when it wasn’t 8-days of celebrating African film and TV, the event had spurred a crisis for attendees — as CEO John Ugbe reminded his guests during the Hollywood brunch. That crisis was connected to the pandemic, which you could say had its official outing in Nigeria almost immediately after the industry’s big night in 2020.

That was the past, though. After skipping last year, here again was a chance for the industry to congratulate itself across genres. It did so by bringing in the continent’s creative industries into Lagos in a way it had never quite done before: South Africa’s Bonang Matheba anchored the main event with IK Osakioduwa, you could find Ghana’s Sika Osei on the red carpet, and, if you threw one stone anywhere within the Eko Hotel compound, you would hit two journos/bloggers/influencers from Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya or Uganda.

Fashion designers, social media creators, influencers, musicians — every subset of the African creative industry seemed present. And the organisers were quite astute in setting the event in May (aka Africa Month) and about a fortnight before Africa Day.

It was, of course, the final day for the annual hustle for AMVCA tickets. And the lucky ones who were able to acquire tickets could be found in vehicles snaking from within the Eko Hotel expanse to down Ahmadu Bello road in Victoria Island. You had only yourself (and maybe Lagos traffic) to blame if you left home late.

As the event kicked off, a myriad of colours, of perfumes, of styles, and of accents filled the atmosphere. Winners were called on by an assortment of creative industry professionals and corporate folks passive-aggressively selling their markets. On TV, viewers likely saw an industry comport itself as Bonang and Osakioduwa expertly commandeered the stage and offered jokes, a Deyemi-Okanlawon-as-Will-Smith-at-the-Oscars jab being obligatory at this point.

We have come to expect tears, cheers, and, even with warnings, long-lasting speeches at award ceremonies and the night’s winners duly delivered. But to my mind, if there was an award for the night’s most unintentionally hilarious moment, it should have gone to the man popularly known as Oga Sabinus. He showed up from off-field literally.

You had to be at the ceremony in person to see him semi-stagger from outside of the hall where he was doing God-knows-what when he was announced winner of on the mouthful Best Online Social Content Creator award. The hall had cheered enthusiastically at the mention of his name and many people cheered still as he kept looking at one of the hall’s big screens, perhaps at his image or his oversized name.

When he finally got on the stage, it was inevitable that his speech would be cut off. His long walk to stage was probably behind Osakioduwa’s off-air reminder to everyone to be quicker. At the other end of Oga Sabinus’ raucous reception were muted ones given to non-Nigerian winners, Nigeria’s national insularity coming to play live on television, South Africa’s Dantagos Jimmy-Melani and Ghana’s Pascal Aka among its victims.

Away from film, one of the night’s highlights came with the appearance of Rema and Lagbaja. The show’s curators did well in combining young and old, giving more time to the latter and he dutifully produced a superb performance. If the inclusion of content creators in the award categories was designed to bring in the young, Lagbaja’s time onstage courted the grown. For business-minded viewers, this was the event’s way of saying that, in the end, it’s the adult at home paying subscription fees monthly.

But, of course, if you watched from home, you didn’t see a few interesting things. Like the social media personality James Brown insisting that a closed exit be opened to him (and it was). You didn’t see that the OAP Do2tun read reality star Erica Nlewedim’s lines on the teleprompter and she then had him also read his own part as well by standing regal, quiet (and maybe displeased); you didn’t see Jemima Osunde and Adesua Etomi-Wellington hollering and cheering like teenagers when occasional actor Denola Grey won the night’s Best Dressed Male award.

Of course, you didn’t have to be present physically to know that, as with other kinds of awards for creative people, viewers’ choice awards are imperfect. You could argue that Nollywood newcomer Samuel Perry (aka Broda Shaggi) winning one of the Best Actor awards is only possible when fans choose and that Amina not winning Best Film in any region but getting Best Overall Movie is a product of the same flawed design.

You could even argue that the Rattlesnake remake, which is neither as cohesive nor as grittily entertaining as the original, doesn’t deserve to be as handsomely rewarded as it was. But we’d have to look at the voters to point a finger. In any case, in the they-got-it-right category is Omowunmi Dada who appeared surprised to have won one of the Best Supporting Actress awards. After proving herself, notably in Oloture, her days of being underrated are over. In the same category was the “Industry Merit” honour given to Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. “I’m usually garrulous but I’m lost for words,” she said before finding quite a selection of words in appreciation.

It was up to D’Banj to close out the night. But that was only for the TV audience. At Eko Hotel, another kind of night started shortly after. The 8-days of the AMVCA ceremony ended with a star-studded after-party. And if you have to ask how it went down, then you’ll never know — because, as everybody in Nollywood knows, what happens at the AMVCA after-party…stays at the AMVCA after-party.

The after-party had an all-white theme

This piece first appeared in the ThisDay Sunday 29/05/2022 newspaper

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