Ouch. Another American hits African soil without much clue about where they are landing. The most notorious example is Rick Ross giving us all a giggle when he got excited about arriving in the “beautiful country of Africa”.
In this case Marlon Wayans, who can be pretty funny on occasion though he’s not really an A lister, got flown in to host the MTV Mamas despite a host of local talent, such as South African comedian Trevor Noah. He proceeded to hit the wrong note repeatedly, enraging viewers from coast to coast as he just didn’t seem to care about where he was (Durban, South Africa, in fact).
To give the man some credit, awards show hosting is a tricky task and often consummate performers fall down on this particular duty. And he is known for his childish and dry sense of humour, which could potentially have translated well. But he was rubbish last night beyond excuse, lampooning Africa, and commentators from across the continent vented their spleen on Twitter.
Nigerian R&B artist Banky Wellington said it the most simply: “Terrible host.” He then moderated his opinion slightly to: “Maybe he’s not such a bad host. I’m sorry but I’m just not feeling all the constant ‘jokes about Africa’… Whatever.”
Kenyan tech expert and social activist Ory Okolloh said: “Whose dumb idea was it to have Marlon Wayans host #MTVMAMA? He has not even trying to be locally relevant. *smh*”
Music writer Phiona Okumu of AfriPop, who works with MTV on its Iggy offering, said: “i wanted marlon wayans to kill it. but now i don’t think he was the right choice of host :/ #mtvmama”
There were some positives of the evening – such as the amazing flow between Trey Songz and D’Banj. It was good to see American artists on stage with African artists, and the crowds loved this aspect, plus the mashup between Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Uhuru was out of this world. A few people even stuck up for Wayans, saying at least he looked good (he’s a model as well as a comedian so this is hardly surprising).
But Wayans is no slouch, and despite being well known for films such as White Girls, he also turned in a solid dramatic performance in drug tragedy film Requiem for a Dream. The man is not stupid, which implies that the skimpiness of his performance and the wealth of stereotypes was just because he wasn’t bothered about what impression he made. Like Erykah Badu performing for the King of Swaziland, a gig is a gig, you just turn in your performance and get out.
And I’m sure Erykah’s performance was solid at least, she’s a pro. Whereas Wayans butchered the local names, such as Mafikizolo – with Kenyan news anchor Ben Kitilli pointing out that Wayans couldn’t even manage to pronounce Nairobi correctly. He trundled out crappy stereotype after insult – telling the audience that he’d seen butts that made Kim Kardashian look like Miley Cyrus, going on about how many marathons Africans win and getting in jokes about cannibalism, clicking languages and how he might have fucked a lion the night before.
The thing is, an African comedian might have got away with some of this under the banner of satire. But Wayans just flew in three days before, so it comes across as disrespect rather than subversive humour. And it’s like that classic situation where you can be as rude as you want about your own family, but God forbid anyone else should speak ill of them…
South African Columnist and youth think-tank boss Zama Ndlovu (@JoziGoddess) spoke for many when she (half) jokingly said: “We need to take MTV to the Equality Court for these Marlon ‘jokes’. #MAMA2014”
Across social media, people asked why on earth an American had to be flown in specially. A clear feeling came through the many voices that rose in protest at Wayans’ performance – and that was that the desperation to do everything the same as in the West has to end. Having a “Western” host didn’t confer the event with more international kudos – it was just lame and backfired.
For every Lady Gaga – “I AM IN AFRICA WE HAVE NOT LANDED YET BUT I THINK I SAW A GIRAFFE ALTHOUGH IM PRETTY SURE IM SEEING THINGS BECAUSE IM SO EXCITED!!!! ahh!!!” – there is a Yasiin Bey, someone who comes to Africa with an open mind, a willingness to learn and a respect for context.
It’s a shame Wayans fell not just into the Gaga camp but ventured far beyond, into insult territory. No doubt on this piece there will be the usual comments about “why take offence”, “it’s just a joke” etc – but the point is that we want better jokes. We want cooler jokes. We want African jokes.