By Dia Zamani
She has sometimes been described as the poor man’s Megan Good: everyone’s crush with all innocence, pretty smiles, great body and talent but possessing none of the sophistication that the Preacher’s Wife packs in droves.
You just have to adore Mercy Johnson when she’s on screen; the epitome of professionalism and quality-acting, she can cry a storm or seduce a stoneheart in the same breath. Everyone knows but is perhaps scared to mention, that MJ, as she has been fondly nicknamed by friends and foes alike, is miles ahead of her fellow A-listers. Genevieve Nnaji, Rita Dominic and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde may be better-than-average actors and have huge PR machinery paddling their careers and wheeling them into waters of great fortune.
Isaac Newton must be so proud of Genevieve and Omotola now: for every move by one, there is a counter-move by the other. One gets an Elle feature one month and the other miraculously sidesteps into Time’s influential power-list the next. Again, the one gets a cameo in perhaps the biggest African movie of the year, Half of a Yellow Sun, while the other gets a three-second smiling opportunity – more like brand placement than acting, to be sincere – in an African-American TV series as companion to superstar, Akon.
In comparison, Mercy is bland, anonymous, decrepit and often unheard of in off-the-scene news. Asides awards and her controversial marriage that made news rounds in 2012, she was virtually missing on bloggers’ mouths’ and posts. A scandal-free career might be good, but as industry stakeholders will agree, being off the grid is bad news for a career that is forever on the ascendancy. Her surprise ‘appearance’ on Ice Prince’s Aboki remix alongside the cream of the crop of African musicians was an example of her largely untapped business potential being taken advantage of by the smart guys at Chocolate City.
With hips that sashay from side to side confidently like the needle of a working compass and a backside that qualifies to have its’ own Twitter feed, MJ has a figure to die for and is the complete package; the ideal ebony beauty. However, maybe because she plays the maid so well in the movies, she considers it okay to do so in real life. Her look in recent photo-shoots and at events is nothing short of tacky. Her hair, for example, keeps flaying up and down like a whore’s drawers and her appearance is mostly ordinary. This writer would be shocked to death if she has ever made any Best Dressed List not drawn up by members of her community. Emphasis on ‘ever’.
First and foremost, she needs a stylist to arrest this trend, and a publicist to propel her onto a dozen magazine covers within the next calendar year or two. With her fee per movie somewhere in the region of N1m-N2m, it should be chicken change for her to hire the best in the land, someone who will not make her face look like a clay-texture testing lab. Cue in Tiwa Savage.
Next, she and her team have to lobby for adverts and endorsement deals. 2013 was the golden year of endorsement in Nigeria, but even before then, Queen Genny had been smiling to the bank with megabucks from MUD, Range Rover and other endorsement deals. Even Rita Dominic and Chioma Chukwuka (who is a distinguished actress methinks) have long been on the roster of top telecom brand, Globacom. In neighboring Ghana, Jackie Appiah, Yvonne Nelson and co have massive endorsement deals.
Merchandising might also be under-utilized in this part of the world by entertainers, but could also rake in a few cool millions per year for MJ if she is willing. Tees, mugs, perfumes and the like would be rushed by the willing public who adore her and wouldn’t mind being conned even, for her sake.
Mercy Johnson may have all she wants at this stage – marriage, a kid and an assured status as the best actress in Nigeria – but may never really get to the zenith of her profession if she allows her 2013 image rub its dirty shoulders with the 2014 counterpart. Someone so talented ought not to be so unpolished. Her excuse cannot be that there is a dearth of professionals to handle her portfolio, but if it is, someone please show her this piece and stress that yours sincerely is at her – weak pun alert, people – mercy. Hire me, MJ.