On the night of 12th March 2016
I let the lingering Chris Rock’s monologue twirl through my mind as I headed to the National Museum to catch a performance. I walked towards the Louis Leakey auditorium praying that I wasn’t so late as to miss the beginning of the show. How I hate that! Introverted voices from within had to hush as I used more focus on finding parking; but not before reciting Chris Rock’s most profound statement at the 2016 0scar awards: “…Well here’s the real question. The real question everybody wants to know in the world is: Is Hollywood racist? You know. You gotta go at that at the right way. Is it burning-cross racist? No. Is it “Fetch me some lemonade” racist? No! It’s a different type of racist…” I wondered how it would be received by our Kenyan acting fraternity and other stakeholders if an actor stood on an awards podium and instead of kupaka mafuta (oiling egos) get close and candid on matters that make actors not sit easy?
Familiar faces of actors greeted me outside the white tent. I’m always excited to see friends so I hardly noticed the red carpet and the screen projector set on the left hand side of the building. Soon my paranoia kicked in and I began to wonder why poetry show set-up would be decorated in this manner, with the voices of charming MC’s coming from the loud speakers? I also wondered if this is the kind of crowd that comes to a poetry reading? Not really – and especially not when everyone is dressed in pristine black and grey dinner suits only worn by actors when they are attending…damn! How could I have mixed up the dates?
After I realized what was happening, I began to take in the glamour and glitter attributed to a ceremony of this caliber. A table at the beginning of the alley way was occupied by black occasion dresses, speaking pleasantly to the guests and ushering them inside. The long red carpet diligently led to a photo section where momentarily important film practitioners were greeted by two chatty and welcoming MC’s, whose voices I had noticed earlier on, and a crowd of camera men quite eager to take their pictures. These things make actors feel good and appreciated. So, I loaded my camera and put it in front of my eyes. Through its lens I saw buoyantly posing actors whose hearts were enthralled and grateful that someone had prepared a prestigious event in their honor.
As I took a back seat and watched the event proceed, I wondered what was different this year at the Riverwood Academy Awards? First it goes without saying that the choice of venue helped to create an air of prestige. The Louis Leakey auditorium at the National Museum had enough space outside to set up additional facilities like the catering sector, extra tents, and a projector meant to assist with the over flow of attendees. Inside, the auditorium was classy and glamorously decorated with lots of ambience and a spacious stage.
Apart from the venue, there was a genuine interest in the actors by the organizers. The ushers must be given a ‘thumbs up’ as they appeared organized and simply happy to be there. I wasn’t even invited and yet the organizers treated me with appreciation and respect as an actor. I couldn’t help but imagine how much the nominees were being pampered.
A significant aspect of the awards was the presence of professional actors amongst them celebrities. The Riverwood Awards organizers seemed to realize that the industry could expedite its growth process by embracing the mainstream sector and therefore transform its image from this downtown tribal-homemade video business to a business where many more Kenyans appreciate and consume homegrown film products.
I entertained the idea that just like an influential group of black American actors had protested to Hollywood, our own actors might have aired their views to Riverwood for these positive changes to be made. Perhaps the organizers inherently saw the need for this improvement after self-assessment and only harkened to sporadic feedback from actors.
All in all It makes me confident to disclose my reservation as I am hopeful that the Riverwood Ensemble might have taken notice too, so here we go: I was a bit disappointed –partly with myself- that I had not watched any of the films that had been nominated. Not one. I received messages from a few actors who were nominated asking me to vote for them. I could not do it simply because I had not watched any. I know it is not upon the ensemble in to ensure film distribution in its entirety but it is only fair that the nominated films are shown to the public or at least the fraternity. I propose that next time they have a showcasing week end right after announcing the nominations.
By that virtue I don’t feel qualified to announce the winner. You can find the list of awardees at http://www.actors.co.ke/en/mer/articledetail/763.
The Riverwood Academy Awards may have a long way to go but this ceremony proved that there is an audience and a market that appreciate Kenyan products and encourage actors to keep up their struggle for success.
On the other hand, the #Oscarssowhite ‘campaign’ which culminated in a racism-themed monologue by Chris Rock, also gave us important lessons in bravery, artists’ advocacy and oneness of voice. Black actors in America have made huge strides ever since they were allowed into the mainstream stage. Their success does not inhibit them to continue demanding for a fair playing ground in the American film and TV industry.
What of us who only demand dignified treatment during awards… who only want at least sixty percent local content from international and local broadcasters…who want a structured welfare package? What of us who are determined to see the success of Kenyan theatre and film as a self-sustainable cultural element of our beloved nation?