“What is this Nnaji mystique that has her audience colliding heads so joyfully, crawling, craving some time in her sun? Star quality is what it is. The amount of talent dripping from her little finger is more than many of our other female leading ladies have combined…”
“hi genny, how is your weekend?” – A Nigerian Movie Fan.
The above line was taken from the Guest Book on Nigerian movie actress Genevieve Nnaji’s website, www.genevievennaji.com. Yeah, “Genny” is what they call her out here in cyberspace. Or “Gene”. Or “‘Vieve”. Or just “G”. How about that? The star/fan relationship has progressed to first names now. At the writing of this piece, there are 3549 entries in the Guest Book, spanning 355 pages of 10 postings per page. The fans stop by for all shades of reasons, but many, like the fan quoted above, merely come to find out how her day or week is going.
For the benefit of those of you who are not Internet savvy, a Guest Book is like an online message book. It is a series of messages left by visitors to a website, just as visitors to a house will leave notes to indicate they were around. Now, 3549… That’s a lot of entries for any Guest Book. Even the biggest Hollywood stars usually have just a smattering of entries on their websites. Imagine you received so many visitors to your house within the space of a month (the Domain name was only registered late September 2003). Don’t forget it isn’t everyone that visits this particular house that leaves a written message. Some, like me, just sniff around and leave without a word.
What else do you need to identify a superstar in the making?
“hi, how come u don’t reply mails” – A Nigerian Movie Fan.
Buddy, did Jennifer Lopez ever reply your mail? Why do you think Genevieve Nnaji will? Can you imagine how many other fans like you are scattered around the world, waiting for her to respond to a phone call or email or personal visit? We are commoners and the stars live up there while we live down here. When they give us a good movie, they are sharing a part of their souls with us and we need to be contented with that. So don’t get all itchy if Ms. Nnaji is unable to personally contact you. That is the way it works worldwide. The stars shine while we bask in that glow…
But isn’t Genevieve Nnaji slowly becoming the Nigerian movie industry’s first true superstar? She is transcending stardom into…SUPERSTARDOM! It takes a series of factors to make this possible. Nigerian movies are suddenly earning international attention (acclaim will come later!) for the industry’s ingenuity and resourcefulness amidst a stifling economic environment. The Internet is getting a foothold in Nigeria, and our youngsters are beginning to realize the vast possibilities awaiting them thereon. Nigerians in the Diaspora and Africans have discovered how to connect with the cultures they left behind through watching Nigerian movies, which in turn has led many reputable international publications to do stories on the Nigerian phenomenon (the movies, not 419). Oh, we should not ignore the GSM revolution in Nigeria, the ease of text messaging, the availability of phones to many youngsters who can now yap and yap and yap all day and night about the latest movie and star and…And Genevieve Nnaji, just at the appropriate age of 24, appears to be the front of this national and cross-continental conquest?
Of course we have stars aplenty in the movie industry. I mean what do you call Liz Benson, lovely elegant Lizzy of so many men’s fantasies? Then there’s Regina Askia, no strong actress, but a graceful head-turning model and beauty queen. Oh, and how can we skip Uche Osotule, angelic, a lady to the hilt, unpretentious, endowed with an incredible acting range that most male actors playing against her have been seriously incapable of equaling. There are others, stars all of them, faces that briskly move video movies on retailers’ shelves.
These other folks, however, have functioned largely within Nigeria. They are just now being exported as much as Nnaji, but the other factors, those external things that no actor has any control over, did not come together for these most beloved leading ladies at the right age and time. And so they remain enormously popular, makers of the way, but it is Genevieve Nnaji that is benefiting from all the hard work they have done. Nnaji is the one becoming more than a star, the superstar!
“please genevieve can you give me your Email address or phone number” – A Nigerian movie fan.
What is this Nnaji mystique that has her audience colliding heads so joyfully, crawling, craving some time in her sun? Star quality is what it is. She is a talented actress, no doubt about that. The amount of talent dripping from one of her little fingers is more than many of our other female leading ladies can boast in their entire body. Even when she’s being a bad girl, as in the irrationally jealous sister role she played against the under-challenged Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde in Blood Sisters, she steals scenes. No, she doesn’t steal scenes…The scenes become her. The scenes simply develop a mind all their own and mould themselves lovingly around her. You have to look at her face. It calls you. A beautiful girl, she uses those eyes compellingly. Its like the camera was made for her!
Hers is the kind of unannounced presence that goes on to permeate the place and space. Charisma… She oozes charisma, easily outshining others in the same scene with her merely by her gestures, even without lines. Some would call it over-acting. I think it is just a lack of polish, an absence of technique, the result of too many classes in the confusing schools of experience under the tutelage of directors that are themselves in need of directing, in dire need of schooling in their craft.
“i wanna take ya to the alter by december 29 so start praying that our dream will come true when charly boy will be our mc .ilv ya start fasting and praying now .but ino get money . say amen.” – A Nigerian Movie Fan
Admittedly, Nnaji’s greatest admirers are the teenagers and university students. But, historically, this is the constituency that has always worshipped stars, the followers worldwide that make stars shine. They have the youthful spirit and time to devote to icon worship. And don’t forget, they grow up to become full adults and they never let go of their stars.
Genevieve Nnaji, like the great Nigerian model Oluchi Onweagba before her (http://www.oluchi.com) hawks possibilities, the fact that the girl next door can grab the stars and walk above the clouds. She symbolizes hope for many who dream of breaking into the burgeoning Nigerian movie industry. She plays all the romantic leads, representing the girls about her age who are in reality just discovering love and heartaches and kisses and stuff. She also sells intrigue and mystery and has a member of the Naijarules.com movie forums wondering with confidently marshaled statistics why Ramsey Noah appears only to touch lips with her and no other leading lady in many movies?
“Hello, how is life treating you? my name is chris from edo state. u can’t beleive how far i went to get your phone number.i sent u msg with my phone ystday. i love to hear from you. my tel…” – A Nigerian Movie Fan.
Nnaji gives many aspiring youngsters out there a chance to believe that they can also become somebody, stars paid for doing what seems so simple, something they love. Genevieve has got a lot of youngsters considering a career in the movies. Talented, fashionable, great looking, photogenic, getting well paid… These are all characteristics that the average youngster seeks. Everyone wants to be popular. Everyone wants to shine like a star…and the star today has a name: Genevieve Nnaji. All the girls want to be Genevieve Nnaji.
To become a superstar, Nnaji has to be exportable, and that she is already. Projects in Ghana, Sierra Leone, London, all over. Nnaji appeals just as warmly to Kenyans and Liberians and South Africans and Ghanaians who avidly watch Nigerian home videos at home and abroad. Genevieve is leading that market into new territories today.
She took the extra step of projecting herself beyond Nigeria by having a website constructed, arguably the most trafficked Nigerian site on the Internet as at the time of this writing. WhoIs information reveals the Domain was only registered late in September 2003, and at the rate of about 200 Guest Book entries daily, it has been online for about 17 days as at the time of this writing. Its fame spread like wildfire, a jolly virus. 3549 entries in 355 pages in two weeks… That is phenomenal by Internet standards, probably unequaled by any star below the level of a Britney Spears. It has become one of the most popular sites on the Internet in a matter of days, a Mecca for her legion of fans who are seemingly incapable of getting enough of this beautiful princess from some hyperbolic dream, a fantasy creature strutting her sweet stuff across our captivated reality.
“God’s gift to you is you life and what you become in life is your gift to him. You must give your life totaly to god. Use the gift he, god, has blessed you with to win souls for him. Then you can sit back and smile at the work of your hands.” – A Nigerian Movie Fan.
Hers was the second site to come online, second only to Richard Mofe-Damijo’s rmdpromotions.com. And she filled the space only with what they want – little information, a little taste of her glamorous world. The website adds to her mystery, from the first page where she peeps from behind a veil asking you to come in and discover – through the carefully selected photos that adorn the sparse pages. Every image flashes that mischievous smile that is melting and breaking hearts around the world.
The entries in the Guest Book are mostly from Nigeria, but African countries and North American regions are also well represented. The thoughts expressed in the pages are often sporadic, but true in their spontaneity, sincere in their intentions. Love is the word used most on his website. “I love you…” I don’t think the word has ever been used within any limited space as often as is used site. They love their icon. Many leave their phone numbers, email addresses, in hope of a reply…especially the young men who just want to marry her.
She hasn’t acted in an international collaboration the size of Richard Mofe-Damijo’s Critical Assignment. Unlike RMD, she does not have an agent in South Africa, but her name is just as recognisable as his, if not more so. And she is 18yrs younger than he is. As it says in the pop hit, “time is on my side” should be Nnaji’s song. The best years of her career are still ahead.
Now, it is normal for celebrities to get x-rayed and “exposed”, if you know what I mean. Understandably, some with eyes like knives are already piercing her with their scrutiny. Posts on the site for instance wonder why she does not mention a “child” they claim she had before she became a star. Some wonder why she is still single. Some call her prostitute. A particular post that seems to buttress other claims that she is “snobbish” goes thus: ‘hi, dnt’ve much 2 say,just dat u shuld try & be nice 2 ppl u meet out der.cos i watchd u insult a security man in ctizens bank in enugu ova nutin dat wsnt calld 4.dat was 2 bad girl.well,like u sed in ur prfile”do un2 odas what u want them 2 do 2 u“‘.
Yes, the walls still have those ears and eyes. So does everything else these days. The benefits of stardom come first. Then the unceasing scrutiny and stress emerge and you want only to get away from it. Some just hurl stones at her for no obvious reason: “Are you sure you are not more than 30 years .why didnt you tell us when you finish your sec chool. anyway try and go back to school. Dont be carried away with this so called your site , beside i dont know who you think you are .” Should we call that advice? This definitely is: “What were you readind . Well if it is true that you left school for acting that is rubbish , beside i thought you said your mother was a teacher. Take a good look at most of the actors , they are all well educated . My dear go back to school.“
For some, the interest is merely “professional”: “l want you to help me to be part of actors in nigeria movies” and “learn to stop acting crazy parts in movies and pls stop acting with Ramsey Noah.” For this person, it is an eye-opening experience: “Hi Genny,guess u moved me into watching Nigerian Movies!i have always looked on them as a waste of time and not inspiring,but when watched Keping Faith i realised there was more sophistication than i thought. the movie inspired me a lot.K“. For others, it is a matter of life and death: “Sweetheart,plz mail me if u dont mail me this night i ll dieoo“.
Look at her and tell me who she reminds you of… Halle Berry, African American Oscar winning movie superstar… Janet Jackson, African American Grammy winning Singer… She is black like them. And she has their fragile, yet strong friendly features. Her smile is winningly handsome, electric, tickling the heart. Like them, she has that graceful frame that seems to fit into the international world’s conception of beauty.
As has been noted elsewhere, a star is perpetually in character. Once you become a celebrity of that magnitude, you must be playing a role round the clock because your audience never goes to sleep. There is no relaxing your guard. It is a stressful existence and a stars’ simply human mistakes are blown often out of proportion. A second chance is hard to come by after that first impression. Add to that the worries of losing your fame, a thought that crosses every star’s mind at some point…Once you grab the klieg lights, you never want to be obscure again.
What is the difference between the stars who remain icons for many years and those who die out quickly? Good and bad films. The secret to retaining that stardom is selecting good movies and constantly staying in the imagination of the people by never revealing all in your personal arsenal. The day they find out all there is to know, that’s the day they will start looking for another unopened box. A good manager’s worth is unquantifiable. As at the writing of this piece, I know Nnaji has management offers that she is considering. If she selects the right manager who has a vision for her that reaches beyond our borders, beyond even the stars, then she will go far. It’s going to take targeted packaging. Perhaps it will take much more than anyone of us can even begin to imagine for this conquering lioness to saunter into the world outside Nigeria, a world that is known to Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington…Superstars all… Maybe another fan, Vanessa, has the answer in her short entry: “i prayed for u today. i care a lot”
Thank you Vanessa. And thank you “G’ for bringing so much excitement and glamour into our lives.