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The slow death of mystery

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Film industry

Once upon a time there was a mystery to movie stars. The average viewer only saw them on the big screen, which required leaving their home, buying a ticket and sitting in a dark room with 100+ strangers for 90 – 120 minutes.

There was a clear distinction between television and movie stars. TV stars were seen every other day via soaps, sitcoms, dramas and procedurals, watching them as you had dinner in your PJs.

In the US the introduction of VHS slightly bridged the gap as you could play your favorite film till the cassette unspooled but movie stars were still a bigger deal. Like having two favorite cousins, one in the same city as you, 15 mins drive away and the other you only see at Christmas when they come to town from “the abroad”.

There never was such a distinction in Nollywood because there were no cinemas, movies were watched on VHS in the comfort of homes. Television was always the only medium for over a decade and still, about 70% of Nollywood’s core fanbase who don’t go to or can’t afford the cinema. But that’s for another day.

There was a time when there was little visibility of movie stars aside the films they made and promoted annually. They remained a mystery and we never quite knew if they were as crazy, sexy or cool as in their films?

This all changed in the last decade when social media became a part of daily our lives.
Social media apps broke the 4th wall creating a bridge between fans and previously inaccessible actors, who now post their thoughts, struggles, take selfies at home and interacting with fans changed everything.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s the reality of our age.

Actors hosting, Ask Me Anything #AMA sessions can be delightful. Finding out your favourite star likes the same music, had similar life experiences, shares similar religious or political viewers can create affinity, demystifying them and making them more like a friend you can hang out with, than a distant untenable public figure. Therein, lies the rub.

Will Smith launched YouTube and Instagram accounts in 2018 and instantly became a hit. Giving a 1st person perspective on life, family and his general thoughts “unfiltered”.

Something fans never had during the height of his 90s box office domination. We saw his family vacations, his adventures, celebration of his 50th birthday and much more. Mr Summer blockbuster became our favourite follow.

Ironic, as Smith for many years intentionally stayed away from any publicity which had nothing to do with promoting his movies, (something Denzel Washington maintains).

However, Smith can do this, we saw him on screen for 20 years before this happened, we know him for Independence Day, Bad Boys, Men in Black, Ali and much more.

But what about actors still building a body of work, especially if they are known more for a social media persona than the roles they have played or yet to play on screen? How easy it to see an actor disappear into a role when you’ve seen them every day on Instagram for the last 10 months and don’t yet identify them with an iconic role?

How much can we suspend disbelief if we’ve seen 50 Instagram posts on location in costume and out of character, 3 months earlier? Is overexposure bad for storytelling and characterization in filmmaking?

Those 30 and older know what it’s like to only ever see their favorite actor in movies, promotional interviews or tabloids.

At the height of their fame in the 90s, seeing and interacting with Genevieve, Ramsey, Regina, Omotola or RMD would have been bragging rights to fans, something their friends would never believe happened, a once in a lifetime interaction. Now with 200mb data anyone can tweet at them anything that crosses the mind, keep track of their activity.

Iroko movies, Africa Magic Soap and Telenovela stars are available on instagram where fans can see how they look when they “just woke up” or what they are having for breakfast that day. Compared to the era of Ripples, Checkmate, Behind the Clouds and other shows where fans could go a decade without ever seeing an actor outside of their role.

Social Media is not going away, it certainly has its many benefits to the movie industry- some actors genuinely love the unfiltered access to their fans and their direct feedback.

Some producers rely on their cast’s follower count as it helps with raising finance, promoting films and projecting ticket sales, though follower count and likes on a post don’t always translate to equivalent ticket sales.

However, one has to wonder, if we have lost something with the slow death of mystery.


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