At the beginning of every year, since May 16 in 1929, the first Academy Awards ceremony was hosted at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room.
MGM studio head Louis B Mayer and his dinner guests, in proposing the creation of what would become the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), was merely looking for ways to benefit the film industry.
Today, every year the world anticipates the recipient of the sought-after golden statuette. From the moment any worthy film drops, pundits start sizing up its Oscar prospects.
But whose decision is it to bestow this honour on anyone? The answer is: voting members of AMPAS or the Academy; just over 8000 of them at the last count. The Academy does not disclose its members. This secrecy notwithstanding, all film lovers are interested in what they have to say.
Charity begins at home; so do fame and fortune. Hollywood films, with an Academy nomination or award to their name, glide effortlessly to box-office records all over the world. Actors with any Oscar nomination are associated with commercial success. It is assumed they bring gravitas to any film. For South Africa Inc to become a blockbuster movie, South Africans need to uphold their own icons first.
Success on the domestic market provides exports with capital to fund international marketing campaigns.
Sarafina, Mbongeni Ngema’s stage play about Soweto’s 1976 uprisings and the anti-apartheid Struggle, needed Whoopi Goldberg as progressive Mistress Masombuka. Goldberg had just won an Academy Award for her 1990 supporting role in Ghost. Cry the Beloved Country, based on the classic novel by Alan Paton, leaned on Academy Award nominee James Earl Jones to attract international attention, in spite of co-starring Vusi Kunene.
We South Africans downplay our world-class brands, like Black Coffee, Trevor Noah, Nelson Makamo, Charlize Theron - even when they are big on the world stage. It is a costly socio-cultural malaise, which must be fixed.
For its part, Brand SA has been actively inspiring new ways of telling the true South African story. Among other initiatives to achieve this has been our Making It Uniquely South Africa series on BBC in the UK.
We use this great platform in a region that is our major trading partner and tourism market to showcase great South Africans.
By highlighting our own icons, who earn money abroad and plough it back into our local economy, we stand a chance of aggregating pockets of our greatness into concerted campaigns to buy local, support local symbols and fill our cinemas when local productions are showing.
* Lombard is on the Brand South Africa board of trustees, and chief executive of espAfrika, an events management company responsible for staging the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.