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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 18:30 GMT
Nigeria's performing royalty
Film poster showing John Amata
John Amata, founder of the dynasty, in one of his film roles
By Eniwoke Ibagere in Lagos

Nigeria's Amata dynasty has entertainment running in its blood.

There are three generations of actors, directors and producers - all have played, or are playing a crucial role in Nigeria's film and theatre industry.

Click here to see the Amata family tree

Zack, in the middle generation, is known as "lord of the Amata theatre family".

Seeing my late grandfather with his strong acting qualities influenced me to become an actor

Jeta Amata
He is currently running a community theatre initiative in the south of the country - the Niger Delta peace project.

The aim of the project is to use radio and television drama series to constructively criticise the government and get it to do something about the squalid poverty and environmental pollution in the Niger Delta.

Using theatre as a way of empowering people is a new experience for Zack, who - along with the rest of his family - is more used to big film and theatre productions.

The beginning

The dynasty's founder, John Amata, was a famous Nigerian playwright and actor in his own right. He died in 1997.

Fred and his wife and two children
Fred Amata relaxes with his family
But his wife Joy, an actress in the past, now leans back to savour the accolades her children get as they carve their own niche in the entertainment industry.

The tall, elegant "lady of the theatre family" is Mena.

Mena played key roles in several drama plays that were written by her late father and staged in Switzerland in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, she occasionally stars in Nigerian video films and presents a local television programme "Bon Apetit", where famous actors and actresses teach viewers how to prepare local dishes.

Big talent

Then there's the multi-skilled Fred who works as an actor, producer and director.

For Nigerian actors and actresses, it's a plain life with fame but without money

Zack Amata
He is the king of the Nigerian video industry - the enormously popular home-grown film business.

Next in line is the reserved Ruke who used to act but is now concentrating on, as he puts it, his "stronger qualities as a film director".

The "baby of the theatre family" is Eloho, who had a fleeting moment of fame starring in two videos: "Fire and the Glory" and "Glamour Boys".

She, however, says: "Acting for me is make-believe and I hate pretenses. I'm also a bit shy, so maybe that's why I didn't develop my acting potential."

Next in line

Jeta, Zack's first son, is spearheading the third generation of Amatas. He has a degree in dramatic arts, and was his father's student at university.

Video film posters
Posters for video films are plastered all over Lagos
"Seeing my late grandfather with his strong acting qualities influenced me to become an actor," says Jeta, with his trademark hair locks.

"As a kid, I watched him in stage plays and he also taught me some tricks of the trade. So despite my father's warnings that Nigerian actors are always poor, I turned to acting."

His younger brother, Viefe, 16, is Nigeria's youngest film editor. Fred's son, six-year-old Oreva, is already in the family business - he has starred in two films.

Fred's wife, Agatha, is a theatre and film costumier and presenter of a television programme, "Inside Out", which explores Nigeria's social problems.

Little money

It is love that keeps them in the industry as acting and film-making for most is not that lucrative in Nigeria.

"For Nigerian actors and actresses, it's a plain life with fame but without money," says Zack.

Fred believes there is an abundance of talent in the industry despite the lack of necessary modern equipment and poor quality of some of the works produced.

The Amatas will be making a much more powerful statement in the industry in the very near future

Ruke Amata
Jeta agrees: "Some of the Nigerian works are appallingly mediocre. Scripts are poorly written, acting and directing are wooden."

Zack, however, thinks that the industry is going through "teething problems".

He believes that "there's a future in the industry in Nigeria as only the grain can withstand the test of the audience, the chaff will be blown away."

Bright future

For the Amata acting family, they look certain to be the grain.

Fred Amata checking a camera during a shoot
Fred (with camera) is busy making films
Some of the films they have worked on including "Son of the Devil", "No More Food for the Gods and "Glamour Boys" have either won honours or nominations in the Nigerian Film Awards, a version of the American Oscars.

Ruke says: "I believe we the Amatas will be making a much more powerful statement in the industry in the very near future."

Their mother agrees: "They are trying to use acting to change people's lives positively and I feel very, very proud about this."

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23 Feb 00 | Entertainment
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