It's time the AMVCA evolves past public voting
Considerable and consequential parts of the AMVCA have been reduced to popularity contests.
Once, a schoolmate buzzed me on WhatsApp, asking me to vote him as "student politician of the year" in the annual faculty awards. A thought occurred to me then: Shouldn’t this category be arbitrated by a small group of students who know the facts, rather than by the entire student mass?
I had a similar thought as I followed the rituals of the AMVCA’s ninth edition, whose finale was held on May 20, 2023 at Eko Hotel in Lagos.
Its attendees’ sartorial choices aside, this year’s show was also notable for its lavish serving of democracy. Actors won certain plaques for this and that, only they had not been selected for the award by a select panel of film critics or filmmakers. Certain award categories had been decided by the public. Well, I disagree with that logic.
Hosted annually by MultiChoice, the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards rewards performances in Nigerian film and television. It has a rather literal name: "Viewers’ Choice" really means the public are given a say in the matter.
In all, there are 12 voting categories; and it’s no problem when the public votes on such awards as Best Online Social Content Creator. But it becomes problematic when the public also gets to decide who carts away with the more consequential ones like the Best Actor in a Drama and Best Original Drama Series awards, among others.
And this isn’t to say members of the public cannot competently interpret films. Perhaps most people can. It is, after all, a medium with elements—story and character particularly—which are intrinsic to the human experience and can be appreciated intuitively without formal schooling; just as you can intuitively judge the taste of food without being a Michelin star chef.
And perhaps being adept at interpreting film requires that you are also adept at life, that you know one or two things about art and politics and religion. You don’t need to know the auteur theory or own a film diploma to recognise the Biblical allusion in a scene in The Devil’s Advocate where Al Pacino tempts Keanu Reeves atop a skyscraper. You only need to have attended Sunday school.
That said, there’s still an acre of difference between the critical judgement by the public who watch 20, maybe 30 movies a year, and that of a filmmaker or critic who averages, say, 100. That kind of film consumption gives the second group an advantage: context. And the knowledge of context—social, historical, authorial—is arguably the most important equipment in art criticism.
Which is why organisers of awards that most of the world defers to, such as the Oscars and the Nobel Prize, rely on the judgement of specialists. The Oscars has an academy of about 10,000 voters, and the Nobel is awarded by the Swedish Academy. One effect of this is that it lends the awards a certain gravity, both in the eyes of the public and the winners. Surely you cannot compare the self-satisfaction an author would feel on winning a literary prize that had been decided on by Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and Teju Cole, to one that was largely won by a Twitter poll.
And this is the problem with the AMVCA. For all its cultural significance, it has yet to reach its full potential because considerable and consequential parts of it have been reduced to popularity contests. Thus it doesn’t inspire widespread faith in its critical authority. This same problem bedevils The Headies, another Nigerian institution which indulges a reckless kind of democracy.
The current AMVCA model might exist to encourage public participation, thus making the show’s organisers a lorry-load of money. But now the AMVCA must decide if it also wants to be seen as a serious arbitrator. And it can do that by playing the tyrannical government: giving democracy the short shrift.
I did not respond to that WhatsApp message; and my former faculty continues in that democratic tradition. But there’s no reason the AMVCA has to.
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