Neophytou: Squealing for SA across the seas
In April 1994, I was in Standard 5, 12 years old, and living in Benoni and keeping a diary of election week, with notes on how a friend's family who lived nearby had been preparing for the worst by stocking up on candles and tinned food. I had little idea then that, in a decade's time, I would still be writing in a journal, about a fellow Benonian - this time, one who had brought home a small, gold statue in the shape of an undressed man.
I've been reporting on the South African arts and entertainment scene for the past - count them - 15 years (I feel even older just seeing that typed out), in some way or another, whether it's been as a side-gig or my full-time job. For the first five years of South Africa's democracy, as I was becoming a teenager, I wasn't fully aware of what the country's newly-gained freedom meant for music, for film, for theatre, for the arts.
So I missed many of the important milestones - from the Whitney Houston concert that became one of the first gigs by a major artist to perform on our shores since the lifting of the cultural ban two years before, to the Arthur Mafokate's controversial track Kaffir, when it first came out.
But in the past 15 years, I've been privy to some of the best highlights - with a front-row seat, a back-stage pass, and a sneak-preview at what's still to come.
One of them remains meeting Charlize Theron, in the wake of her best actress Oscar win for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2004, a year when _The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Ring _(based on a book written by South African-born JRR Tolkien) dominated the ceremony. I remember watching the live broadcast, with eyes pried open at 3am, as she spoke: "And I know everybody in New Zealand is going to be thanked so I'm going to thank everybody in South Africa, my home country. They're all watching tonight and I'm bringing this home next week." That she did, when 'onse' Charlize returned to South Africa a few days later, for a victory lap, with her little gold man in tow.
Working for the current affairs TV show 3rd Degree at the time, I produced an episode on her glorious win, as she became the first South African - and indeed African - to win an Oscar for best actress. It was the first time I was ever exposed to a set-up I now encounter frequently - the movie-star interview. Back then, the bright lights and multiple fancy cameras caught 22-year-old me off guard, and I tripped over one of the wires, as I went to congratulate her and shake her hand.
More Oscar glory for the country came in 2006, when director Gavin Hood scooped the best foreign language award for Tsotsi. On the night of the awards ceremony, a few weeks into working my new job at Eyewitness News, I was at Montecasino where a party was being held to watch the ceremony live. When Will Smith made the announcement, I got so excited I raced through my news reports, so much so that editor Katy Katopodis called to remind me that I wasn't the one who had won the Oscar.
While I've learnt to control my emotions - as much as possible - on air, I still get excited to see South Africans doing well in the entertainment world. Anyone who's ever worked next to me will attest to the squeals of excitement I make when I find out that Jodi Bieber has won the World Press Photo of the Year, or that David Tlale will be showing at New York Fashion Week.
I've seen more than I can ever capture in just a few paragraphs - from the Soweto Gospel Choir performing with Stevie Wonder at the Mandela Day Concert at Radio City Music Hall, to the opening night of the Lion King at Montecasino's Teatro Theatre where Oprah sang into my microphone: "He lives in meeee, he lives in youuuuu!"
I'll never forget sitting in a plush seat of the Grand Lumiere Theatre in Cannes and witnessing the 10-minute standing ovation Oliver Schmitz's film Life, Above All earned, along with the two thumbs up the late Roger Ebert showed me, just before giving the film a 4-out-of-4-star review. Or being on a wooden bench at the opening of The Fugard Theatre in once-forgotten District 6, watching Athol Fugard's Train Driver play. Or the nights spent running after musicians who just wanted to celebrate their wins at South Africa's version of the Grammys, the SAMAs, which, too, celebrate their 20th anniversary this weekend.
Being here in the US means I get to see how South Africans fare across the seas, and I keep squealing.
Nadia Neophytou is EWN's entertainment correspondent, based in New York.