Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
Who tells illiterate performers the obligations of their contracts and how much should they be compensated for their roles in feature films that have grossed a lot of money? This has been a recurring issue over the years.
Examples across the Limpopo where companies went on to benefit immensely from a film’s screening and box office success, but the actors got the wrong end of the stick in terms of benefiting financially come into mind.
Classic examples are Henry Cele who played the role of Shaka in a 1980s series, Shaka Zulu. Although the role and film got global appeal and Cele was regarded as an international actor, he did not benefit much from its production. Cele died on December 2, 2007 in Durban, South Africa.
Now imagine if the main actor experienced this, what more of the people who played supporting roles?
The same happened to the man who played N!xau in the God’s Must Be Crazy, a 1980 comedy film. For the first instalment of the film, he was paid R1 200 while the film made over US$200 million. The Namibian was the centre of attraction as he made the film, but he did not benefit the most. It was the production house that made the money.
It is said that N!xau, who died on July 5, 2003, was illiterate, but was very intelligent. He did not know what he was getting himself into. And this is still happening in 2020 when artistes enter into contracts whose meaning they do not know. It is when it’s time for money to be paid that the contract, that binds you for years or is not in your best interests, is explained to you.
In Zimbabwe, the problem is the same. We have seen the likes of Lazarus Boora popularly known for his role as Gringo, fall on hard times. So bad has been the situation that people recently had to give him donations. The show Gringo that aired on ZBCtv made him an instant hit, so much so that the drama series was developed into a movie. Boora also acted in other films such as Yellow Card that featured Leroy Gopal.
But the question that remains is what happens to actors after the fame? Why do they fall on hard times? Is it the production house’s duty to make sure that these actors are taken care of after the production ends?
Well, production houses will not take care of people after they have left the film, but will benefit from licensing the film around the country and the world.
The only way for actors to keep on benefiting from their hard work is through residuals. Residuals are royalties that are paid to the actors, film or television directors and others involved in making TV shows and movies in cases of reruns, syndication, DVD release, or online streaming release.
A movie can be shown countless times around the county on television, in cinemas and even jump onto online platforms around the world. All this time, the platforms whether online or offline, pay for the content.
For instance, ZBCtv which loves to use repeats of drama series such as Gringo and the like should be paying the production houses for the reruns. That way, Boora and company can benefit from the residuals.
Residuals work like royalties for the music industry. The singer, composer, producer and publishing house all get something from the song. If the song is very popular, it will stand the test of time and every time it’s played, some money goes to the respective people involved in it.
How many times has the national broadcaster done a rerun of Mukadota? However, the actors are not benefiting and did not benefit from the residuals of the productions.
Perhaps locals can take a leaf from their neighbours in South Africa where these days actors through the South African Actors Guild, are advocating for them to benefit from residuals for their films.
In Africa, the industry is difficult because if one is not acting, they are not being paid, it is as simple as that.
A quick look internationally shows that residuals have seen actors getting paid substantive amounts of money. According to The Independent UK, American sitcom, Friends may have ended in 2004, but the
Warner Bros, the production house, is earning US$1 billion a year from syndication revenue, according to USA Today. For the six main cast members, who earn two percent of the show’s syndication revenue, it means an annual income of US$20m each – just from reruns.
This is something that can definitely help the actors to have income for a show that stopped airing years ago. Even in death, the residuals can be paid to the actor’s estate to help their children and spouses to eat off their art.
Perhaps one day in Zimbabwe this can come into fruition. It might not be the numbers like the ones touted for Friends, but it should be something that can help artistes when they are no longer on the silver screen.