Gerald Langiri
May 09 / 2014

Say what you will about Charles Bukeko aka Papa Shirandula, but he is the biggest star that the Kenya acting industry has. I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t know who he is whether they watch the show or not and whether they love it or not. It is however the most watched TV dramedy(drama and comedy) series currently on Kenyan television. He has the most lucrative deals like the Coca-cola (brrrr advert), Go TV advert etc and the only actor represented in the Twende Kazi reality show.

STARS are the actors that sell the show. The actor people would run to watch a movie or program because they are in it. Every producer and investor would like to make their money back. One of the ways to do this is by making sure audiences go to watch (buy) their series and movies and one way to ensure that is by using celebrities/ stars.

Why do we lack a star system in Kenya though? Why don’t we have more Papa Shirandulas’ and Lupita Nyongos’ yet they are a necessity? Most importantly, how can we create more stars, a star culture and a star system in Kenya?

The star system in Hollywood back in the day (according to Wikipedia) was the method of creating, promoting and exploiting movie stars in Classical Hollywood cinema. Studios would select promising young actors and glamorise and create personas for them. The star system put an emphasis on the image rather than the acting, although discreet acting, voice, and dancing lessons were a common part of the regimen.  Just as studio executives, public relations staffs, and agents worked together with the actor to create a star persona, so they would work together to cover up incidents or lifestylesxs that would damage the star's public image. It was common, for example, to arrange sham dates between single (male) stars and starlets to generate publicity. Tabloids and gossip columnists would be tipped off, and photographers would appear to capture the romantic moment.

In the early years of the cinema (1890s–1900s), performers were not identified in films. There are two main reasons for this:
1.    Stage performers were embarrassed to be in film. Silent film was only considered pantomime. One of an actors' main skills was their voice. They were afraid that appearing in films would ruin their reputation. Something which can also be viewed in the current Kenyan acting industry. For some reason, actors also fear being in the limelight.
2.    Producers feared that actors would gain more prestige and power and demand more money. Studios frowned on star promotion and use of stars to sell their films.
The main catalyst for change was the public's desire to know more about the actors like their real names.  Film audiences repeatedly recognized certain performers in movies that they liked. Since they did not know the performers' names they gave them nicknames.

The development of film fan magazines gave fans knowledge about the actors outside of their film roles. They were initially focused on movies' stories, but soon found that more copies could be sold if they focused on the actors.

If the stories are anything to go by however, one can understand why many are opposed to a star system. Stardom can get into your head making actors difficult to work with. Stories of unprofessional actors who consider themselves stars have been told. Once they get to a certain level of stardom, many actors forget why they started doing this in the 1st place. Any beginning actor is advised never to get into acting because of the fame. Let passion be the driving force. If you keep on doing this for the long haul though, you are bound to become famous anyway and that brand you create can work to both your advantage and the producers’ advantage because, acting and film is a business and profits need to be made.  

The phenomenon of stardom has remained essential to Hollywood even today because of its ability to lure spectators into the theater. Following the demise of the studio system in the 1950s and 60s, the star system became the most important stabilizing feature of the movie industry. This is because stars provide film makers with built in audiences who regularly watch films in which their favorite actors and actresses appear reducing risk of failure and increasing profits.

So what can be done to create Stars?
1.    The product and more often than not, big screen (movies) opposed to small screen (TV series, unless it’s a wrong running soap opera), creates stars.  The cinema operates from three eyes: the eyes of the director and the cameraman, the eyes of the protagonists, and finally, the eyes of the audience. The secret of the star system comes with the second one. Having more and more reaction shots. The reaction shot is a substitution; a mimetic transfer of the spectator's feelings that brings him to identify himself in the star. It is like a mirror or a double, but with a sublimated image. There is also some awe in watching over sized characters on the big screen so a cinema going culture also has to be created.Also creating characters that are identifiable and having good stories.

2.    Myths and dreams of a society: the stars' ability to convey the myths and dreams of their society, such as the myth of the "self made man", which for many viewers represents the belief that everyone has a chance of happiness. Looking at these stars is a way to continue believing that anything is possible, regardless of class or money. Thus, the star system creates hopes and preserves the ideals of a still young country on and off the screen. This however requires actors to get paid well. It is sad that most actors who would be considered stars can hardly ever meet their basic needs because of lack of good remuneration.

3.    Marketing and packaging actors into sellable commodities: This includes but not limited to; Grooming, fashion dress ups, fancy glamorous portfolios, social media marketing, online portfolios, adverts, PR(press releases and public relations)  and CSR activities,  and probably anything that you cant think of as an actor and/or your agent/manager/pr person can come up with.Try not to sell your soul while at it. In this day and age where getting information is just by a click of a button, it is sad I cant get any information about an actor online.

We all are in awe of international actors who come to Kenya like the Ramsey Noahs and Rita Dominics. Remember the heat that came up when Kenyan actors felt shortchanged when they heard that Jim Iyke will play Jack Zollo in the movie My Life in crime? Well, the producers want their movie to sell in the pan African region and that is why they made that movie. Which kenyan actor would have been given the role and would sell that movie in Nigeria for example the wayy I know Kenyans will run to the cinema to watch it becuase partly Jim Iyke is in it?

How many actors’ stars do we have in Kenya that can sell a movie at an international level for example? (except Lupita Nyong’o) Do you agree that we need stars?

By Gerald Langiri

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