If the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award insists on recognising achievement in television, then it’s time to recognise that excellence in television is a different achievement from excellence in film…
By Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, and Seyi Lasisi
Award shows, as numerous and diverse as they are, seem unified on a point — they are all attempts at curating a canon. Although the awards could bow to their creators’ politics and personal wishes, awards conferred on a film, or on members of its cast or crew, increase the possibility of the awardee’s acceptance among stakeholders, merited or unmerited. The glamourous bits aside, awards are, arguably, a measure of the depth, range, and passion of filmmakers. Therefore, in 2013, when the Nigerian movie industry witnessed the creation of the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA), a platform created by the partnership of Africa Magic and MultiChoice to reward excellence and talent in film and television, the infant award was accepted with admiration.
The 9th AMVCA Award Ceremony, like every other since its inception, saw actors and creatives earn accolades for their work. Cinephiles whose passionate pursuit of film titles, on streaming platforms and in cinema, complements the efforts of filmmakers, were not left out. Thus, the award is aptly named. It’s not a misnomer: viewers’ voices get heard. Although the rules are unclear, thanks to AMVCA’s consistent refusal to publish a comprehensive guide, AMVCA’s voting process affords every stakeholder in the industry an opportunity to participate in conferring an award on a nominated film or actor. After only a decade of existence, the film and TV award show has worked its way into being one of the most popular award shows in Africa. However, despite its noble achievements in its short lifespan, and like most award shows, the AMVCA has enjoyed the privilege of attracting criticism towards itself. Critics have complained about several issues, from the show’s observable apathy towards technical elements of filmmaking and the never-ending conversation around opening certain categories for public voting, to the enigmatic lumping together of TV and film nominations. The latter is the focus of this essay.
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A casual glance at the2023 nomination list will likely surprise you. The surprise will give way to disbelief, and disbelief will be replaced by an involuntary anger. Then, these questions will quickly etch themselves on your mind: “Why are they forcefully fastening TV and film together under the same category?” “Are both mediums similar?” “Isn’t there a need to define the difference between TV and film?”
There is a reason that many reputable award shows don’t award both films and TV as a matter of routine. The most famous examples are the Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars, which awards excellence in film, and the Emmy Awards which rewards excellence in television. But even the ones that award both film and TV rarely place them in the same categories to battle for the same plaque. For instance, the Golden Globes, which is generally seen as a cross between the Oscars and the Emmys, has separate categories for film and television — sixteen for film and eleven for TV.
If the Globes feels too far off from AMVCA, consider the MTV Movie and TV Awards which is also a viewers’ choice awards. Where Africa Magic separates film and TV only in the “Best Series” and “Best Film” categories, MTV goes further to honour the Best Performance in a Show separately from the Best Performance in a Movie. In fact, even though majority of the categories have film and TV competing against each other, it still makes sense because MTV’s categories are mostly non-technical or unaffected by the delivery format. Of course, you can have Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness competing against Stranger Things for “Best Villain,” or My Policeman battling four series for “Best Kiss.” But in what world does it make sense to pit an entire writers’ room for one fifty-nine-minute episode of Diiche against one writer for the entire two hours of The Trade in the “Best Writer” category?
Maybe we’re being too bold by making examples with Hollywood’s award shows. Let’s try another film industry. Canada might have a fortunate relationship with Hollywood, but its local industry is not exactly a world leader in film and TV. In a bid to grow the industry and encourage filmmakers, the Canadian Screen Awards categories are very extensive, with twenty-four film categories, ten digital media categories, and one hundred television categories (although the television categories cover practically everything from entertainment to news and sports). There is a clear separation between film and TV in several categories, including cinematography/photography, picture editing, costume design, visual effects, score, and even hair and makeup.
Or should we look at Asian awards? The continent has an Asian Television Awards distinct from its Asian Film Awards. And while there are film awards, whether Pan Asian or within individual countries, that group film and TV together (like the Asia Artist Awards and the Asian Academy Creative Awards), the biggest award shows tend to choose a battle between film and TV, or celebrate both separately where they choose both. In South Korea, for example, the Grand Bell Awards and the Blue Dragon Film Awards celebrate only cinematic achievements, although there’s also a distinct Blue Dragon Series Awards that rewards streaming television. The Baeksang Arts Awards, on the other hand, awards excellence in film, TV and theatre, without merging any.
Okay, maybe that’s still not fair. Maybe North America and Asia are all too far away. Let’s come close to home. The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) was established by representatives of the South African Film and Television industry under guidance from the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa (NFVF). Looking through its exhaustive nomination list that almost rivals the Canadian Screen Awards, there is a huge departure from AMVCA’s categories. From scriptwriting, directing, art direction, cinematography, sound, editing, makeup and hairstyling, and wardrobe awards to Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress and Best Actor, an awardee from each section of TV Comedy, TV Drama, TV Soap/Telenovela, and Feature Film gets to go home with the SAFTA Golden Horn.
In essence, top award bodies across the world seem to be in agreement that film and TV are indeed different, and that’s not a random conclusion. Although both are motion picture media that require, at first, a concession to an idea which is then passionately pursued from pre-production stage to post-production stage, the process and technicalities of making both are very different. A defining trait of TV productions is that they span into episodes, with each episode forming a part of a larger narrative. Consequently, film and TV productions differ in execution, and in many cases, the required skill. Juries and audiences have very different expectations of them. Plus, both formats are also very vast in themselves. On one hand, films include feature films, documentary films and short films. On the other, TV production spans across television series, telenovelas, miniseries, web series, live TV, and reality TV shows. Yet, while the AMVCA awards features, documentaries and shorts separately, the organisers have consistently held back on TV.
Granted, the Golden Age of Nigerian TV is far behind us. In the recent past, award-worthy shows have been few and far between. And with limited resources and inadequate investment from both the private and public sectors, the idea of separating film from TV and essentially doubling the number of categories might be terrifying. But between the streaming platforms (Netflix, Prime Video and Showmax), James Omokwe’s Africa Magic originals, and the Nigerian web channels delivering a regular supply of hit series, we have already begun to witness a resurgence in Nigerian television.
Consequently, there is an urgent need to overhaul the categories. This means a clear-cut separation of TV from film. In an industry where there is a continuous increase in the number of contents produced in both forms, it’s an unjustified union. Really, how do you justify having ten series nominated for Best Television Series, but no more than one series represented in each of the categories of Best Actor in a Comedy, Best Actor in a Drama, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress in a Comedy, Best Writer, Best Soundtrack and Best Makeup Artist? How do you claim to recognise television when some combined categories don’t even have a series represented at all, like the Best Supporting Actress category? Or when series make up only three winners out of sixteen winners of combined categories, all of which are technical or artistic? Lumping film and TV together isn’t doing the industry any favour in a clime where the audiences are gradually getting attuned to the allure of TV productions. Separating them would allow for a wider pool of TV nominees, and in an era where audiences are calling for diversity in storytelling, especially in this age of streaming, a wider pool of TV nominees is a necessity.
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Awards bodies are unified by their innate potential to lead educative conversations about their industries. And if they are a reflection of the relevant industry in which they function, is it really a surprise that one too many Nigerians confuse movies for series and vice versa, when even the country’s most prestigious film and TV award show has failed to recognise the difference?
It behoves on Nigerian award shows, especially viewers’ choice awards like the AMVCA, to recognise as many TV shows as practicable, plug their wide African audiences to shows that would otherwise go unnoticed despite their exceptional storytelling or production quality, and help bring these hidden gems into the spotlight. There are no doubts about the popularity of the AMVCA or the passionate and near-religious attention that the award ceremony receives. But it needs to get its award categories right. Film awards should be film awards, and TV nominations shouldn’t peek into film nominations where the format can influence how they are perceived. An award show willing to spend all those resources on competing with the Met Gala (even if to attract audiences) sure wouldn’t mind diverting some resources to truly celebrating our growing TV industry, would it? If the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award insists on recognising achievement in television, then it’s time to recognise that excellence in television is a different achievement from excellence in film.
Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, a film critic, writer and lawyer, writes from Lagos. Connect with her on Twitter @Nneka_Viv and Instagram @_vivian.nneka
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex.