By Olu James
Since the inaugural Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards ceremony on March 9, 2013 at the Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos, a lot of opinion pieces have found their way into the public domain arguing for the relevance and credibility, or lack of these, of the Pan African awards.
AMVCA, apart from having MultiChoice, a media giant as its backbone, has grown to become the continent’s most recognized awards ceremony by riding on a wave of popularity, glitz, glamour and controversy, with the various voting categories garnering critical talkability every year. For this year’s edition scheduled to hold on the first day of September, close to three thousand entries were received from the length and breadth of Africa and of course, the diaspora. 3000! The constantly increasing number of entries every year is a testament to the acceptance of the AMVCAs; even after five years of existence, there must be a few things being done correctly to sustain this level of acclaim and acceptance.
The organizers of the reward platform say they aim for it to celebrate the contributions of African filmmakers (actors, directors, technicians etc.) to the success of the continent’s film industry. So far, about 151 awards have been presented to filmmakers in recognition of their work.
As trivial as it may seem to an outsider, Folarin Falana AKA Falz knew what he was doing when he was quick to add in his verse on “Bad Baddo Baddest”:
They want to join the bahd gang, we can initiate/Which musician do you know is havin’ AMVCA ehn
But not only does it add “AMVCA Winner” to a filmmaker’s CV, there’s something winning an AMVCA does to an already brilliant performer.
The likes of Falz, Somkele Idhalama, CJ Obasi, Kunle Afolayan, Kemi Lala Akindoju have gone on to achieve even greater individual excellence after receiving their first AMVCA plaques. For many others like Oluseyi Asurf who the award for Best Short Film in 2016 and Rotimi Salami who won as Best Supporting Actor in 2017, winning the award as a “relatively unknown” talent has hurled them into the consciousness of those within and outside the industry. Asurf has gone on to make a hugely successful Hakkunde by leveraging the “AMVCA winner” tag which he used to garner help via crowdfunding.
The AMVCAs have also been able to contribute meaningfully to the recognition of women working in the film and TV industry as well as helping them emerge from the shadows of their male counterparts. Apart from the Best Actress categories, for obvious reasons, four of the five winners of the special Trailblazer Award have been women. A lineup of Michelle Bello, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Ivie Okujaye and Somkele Idhalama has been punctuated only by the deserving CJ Obasi. Two of the films that have emerged as Best Overall Movie (Contract and Dry) are films directed by women – Shirley Frimpong-Manso and Stephanie Linus. It is easy to see that there is a premeditated push in the direction of spotlighting women who are doing brilliant work in front of the cameras as well as behind the scenes.
The AMVCA Industry Merit Award which kicked off with the awards in 2013 is another strong selling point of the platform which further enhances its integrity. Asides from the filmmakers currently working in the industry and who can put up works eligible for awards, there are other industry veterans who have done amazing, brilliant work in their prime and who deserve recognition in a continent not well-known for its prowess in celebrating veterans. It is for these veterans that the Industry Merit Awards exists. Filmmaking but almost “forgotten heroes” such as Amaka Igwe, Sadiq Daba, Chika Opala, Pete Edoche, Bukky Ajayi and Olu Jacobs have been recipients of the Industry Merit Award. In Ajayi’s case, the AMVCA was almost impeccable with the timing of recognizing her with the award. She died just a few months later but she undoubtedly would have died a happy woman knowing that her efforts were recognized by Africa through AMVCA’s Industry Merit Awards.
Also, of all the things under the sun one may accuse the AMVCA of, shoddy organization of its ceremonies cannot be one of them. Someone who has read more than one of my articles will know that I am a huge fan of how the organizers put together the event. The glitz and glamour of it all are something they take seriously and whether we like it or not, the glitz and glamour is one of the reasons we want to watch, say, the Academy Awards or the British Academy Film and Television Awards (BAFTA). This, of course, quaffs a lot of money.
Someone notable in the industry once threw a shade in the direction of the AMVCA when he claimed that the awards platform on whose Jury he sat was “not a popularity contest”. Good! The AMVCA has never claimed to not be a popularity contest and most of our criticism should take cognizance of that. AMVCA has been more about celebrating the “show” in showbiz and it is wrong for us to fault the organizers for choosing the water they wish to swim in. The AMVCA has chosen an ocean to celebrate African filmmakers, especially the previously-neglected female gender and it is doing a brilliant work swimming in that ocean.
The AMVCA is not perfect, no award platform in the world is. But it is, without a doubt, the biggest, grandest and most important celebration of film and television talent in Africa; and given its stellar track record, successes and growth, there is no evidence to suggest that the crown will be shifting heads anytime soon.