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LOVE THY SELF AS YOU LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR

LOVE THY SELF AS YOU LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR

Simiyu BarasaSimiyu Barasa is not only a celebrated contemporary director and trail blazing indie, he is also a culture/identity activist. An analysis of his work reveal an advocate of creative approach on the discourse of  the Kenyan identity and self-appreciation.

One can therefore only imagine how long this perpetual issue of Nollywood-idolization boiled in his heart before he spat it out and the whole acting fraternity made a lurch. He did not mince his words on his Facebook post. Discussion was still on going by the time I left to think deeply about it.

Below is a copy of his admonition.

F Simiyu Barasa: Something is terribly wrong. A Nigerian actor has journalists chasing after them from the minute they land at JKIA while ours remain ignored. It is not right when our home stars have to beg for coverage while some not so impressive foreigner is over hyped. So bad is this that local actors themselves fawn over them. Taking selfies to social- media-prove to us that they too are big. You can’t be big if your self-worth is measured by another’s presence. Have some self-confidence and dignity. Taking selfies with a star doesn’t mean you are one, we know the suffering you go through here. Grow some dignity get your local game sorted and aim international so that when Naija actors land in Nairobi they are the ones ASKING to take selfies with you. Right, our media neglects you. But learn from Vera Sidika about branding and visibility. She is a masters level study on hard work to market her brand, whether you like her work or not. And yes, she is probably the only Kenyan who lands in Murtallah Mohammed airport and Lagos media runs to cover her. The few actors who get to media are few and far between, in fact last I saw was Nyasuguta on citizen nipashe. Apana! This country too has actors that can be covered every week. Personally the rare selfies I post are 95% Kenyan actors kenyan artistes coz tuji support more. like Kalamashaka said in ‘punchlines Kibao’ doggy za mtaa ingine hazieji kuja kojoa hapa…’ lazima pia sisi tuwafunge mabao tumeji-armie na ma punchlines kibao…(*Hounds from a different neighbourhood are not invited to take a pis in our hood . We too must score goals…we are armed with punchlines.) ..this is the country that gave us Maumau. Where did this independent, self-love, dignified spirit dwindle?

It is a common assumption that Kenyan media rarely considers its own talents worthy of celebrity status. Artists complain that one rarely gets coverage until he has either made news or won an award abroad. So much so that serious artists even include touring abroad as strategy to make news back home. This plan may work but most of the time it doesn’t.

I remember a while back when we were invited as a theatre group to represent Africa in a huge festival in India.  We asked TV stations to cover this story. Only one station replied. There was a catch though. For them to cover our story we had to pay air tickets for their journalists and pay for their food and accommodation in India. Keep in mind that this was going to be the first time boarding a plane for most of the cast members. In India we were instant celebrities. Our stage play was on prime time news, in all newspapers and by the time we were leaving, our faces were familiar in the Indian streets. Back in Kenya and we were nobodies, shoving through over- loaded matatus.

This experience gave me a tough lesson early in my career: For an actor, curtains will always fall, no matter how long your time on stage is.

Yet the question still remains. Who is responsible for our recognition and appreciation? The media as a business only sells what they believe will be bought. I however believe that Kenyan media has to play a larger role as this is an egg and chiken situation: We can’t be famous if people don’t watch enough of us on teli and people don’t want to watch us because we are not famous… yet again Nollywood was introduced to our people less than five years ago by the same media and quality was not an issue. We deserve the same opportunity.

Having said that, I believe actors must begin by appreciating themselves first. We must remember the now retired actors that once ruled the screens long before current stars like Jalang’o and Lydia Gitachu.

I will never forget one rainy morning, I saw an old man sitting at the back of a pick-up truck, his grey kangol hat shielding his soft head from the drizzle. A few people on the street cheered him. The tired man immediately wore a smile and waved back. I soon realized it was ‘Mzee Ojwang’. Many questions about this incident ran through my- mind including whether the driver was kind enough to give him a lift or mean to let our dad…one of the greatest Kenyan comedians ever – sit at the back of a pick – up truck in rainy weather.

The nucleus of the problem as Simiyu has pointed out is not the media or the people but we. During An Actor Develops Studio –forum that we facilitated a few weeks ago, I promoted the discussion on being called a celebrity. Most actors, I realized, still felt that being a celebrity is equal to being a famous spoilt brat. This is not necessarily true. As an actor you are an artist, entertainer as well as a leader. Many People will love and celebrate your work hence make you a celebrity and a role model. Quit the false humility and give a thank you back to your fans with humble dignity.

I say this because the problem of admiring other people more than ourselves begin by us not appreciating ourselves enough. We do not fight for each other enough and –to be honest- we only have each other’s back during funerals or medical needs. This is fine but we can do so much more. You can talk about your friend’s show until everyone in your timeline considers him/her a star. He or she ought to reciprocate. How about attending Kenyan cinema and theatre? Do not let quality be an excuse, I’d rather you go watch and afterwards complain to the producers, directors and cast. If they are wise they will accept your feedback and improve.

History has proven that victory is rarely given. You must demand what you believe in and what is rightfully yours. It seems clear to me that Kenyan actors have approached the gate of honor, recognition, financial freedom and appreciation. But alas it is locked! So you either bang hard until its open, knock it down if they refuse to answer or walk back and let the next generation start all over  again.

RIVERWOOD AWARDS & LESSONS FROM #OscarsSoWhite

RIVERWOOD AWARDS & LESSONS FROM #OscarsSoWhite

 

On the night of 12th March 2016

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Actor Gerald Langiri deals with press -two at a time – on the red carpet.

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?

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Appie Matere, a prolific mainstream producer was present.

 

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.

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From left: Actor/producer Kamau Wandungu , Actor/producer Naomi Kamau and producer Gathoni Kimuyu.

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.

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Power-pose: Actors Joe Kinyua and Muthoni Thiong’o

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.

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Kibanda Pictures cast and crew had a reason to smile – Best Director, short film, actress, supporting actress.Martin Githinji,David Kariuki,Brian Elvis Muchara, May Wairimu.

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?