Foremost entertainment lawyer, Barrister Rockson Igelige, has advised that Senate President Bukola Saraki’s invitation of popular seven-year old comedienne, Emmanuella Samuel, to the upper legislative chamber and the Disney role she just landed should be catalysts for putting in place proper legal framework that should protect child actors in the country.
Sequel to an announcement made by Emmanuella that she was set to feature in a Disney Hollywood film, President of Nigerian Senate, Saraki, last Sunday invited the youngster, through posts on his official Twitter and Facebook accounts, to visit the Senate to discuss how to develop young talents in Nigerian creative industry. He described her story as an inspiration.
However, Igelige, an expert in entertainment lawyer, who trained at University of Westminster, London, U.K., said the occasion should not just be for mere backslapping but one that called for serious reflection on how to protect child actors through legal instruments so their adult minders or guardians do not cheat them out of their earnings.
Igelige canvased that the invitation should open the floodgate for Child Actor’s Act or Law in Nigeria in conformity with what obtained in the western world. He cited the California Child Actor’s Bill (also known as Coogan Act or Coogan Bill) designed since 1939 to safeguard a portion of child performers’ earnings (15 per cent) until they enter adulthood.
Igelige emphasised that a bill such as the Child Actor’s Bill is long overdue in Nigeria and clarified further that such a Bill is necessary, as a response to the plight of such successful child actors like Emmanuella and others, who make huge earnings only to discover, upon reaching adulthood, that their parents or managers had spent almost all their money.
According to Igelige, “This discovery has always led to stars taking their parents or managers to court over money they earned as child actors, which had been pilfered or mismanaged.
Examples of such stars whose fruits of their early careers were squandered by their parents include Gary Coleman, Mischa Barton, Macaulay Culkin, Dominique Moceanu, LeAnn Rimes, Mimi Gibson, Shirley Temple and, of course, Jackie Coogan.”
Igelige also strongly advised the Nigeria Senate to be futuristic in their lawmaking like their counterparts in the western world. Although Child Actor’s law or Coogan Law has been in existence since 1939 in California in response to the misfortune of Coogan in his early 20s, Igelige said there was no need to take appropriate cue from such forward-looking law.
He said Coogan was an extremely successful child television star, who started his career in the days of Charlie Chaplin. Upon turning 21, Coogan discovered that his mother and stepfather had squandered all his earnings.
According to Igelige, “The Child Actor’s Law or Act should be put in place now to safeguard the future of our young actors in Nigeria as regards their wealth and education. We don’t need another Jackie Coogan’s experience to prompt us to act. Who knows? There might be cases of Jackie Coogan among us here in Nigeria already,” adding that such cases could bubble to the surface without any legal instrument to tackle it.
As a child star, Coogan earned an estimated USD$3 to $4 million. When he turned 21 in October 1935, his fortune was believed to be well intact. His assets had been conservatively managed by his father, who had died in a car accident less than six months earlier.
However, Coogan found that the entire amount had been spent by his mother and stepfather, Arthur Bernstein, on fur coats, diamonds and other jewelry, and expensive cars. Coogan’s mother and stepfather claimed Jackie enjoyed himself and simply thought he was playing before the camera. Coogan sued them in 1938.
The legal battle focused attention on child actors and resulted in the 1939 enactment of the California Child Actor’s Bill, often referred to as the “Coogan Law” or the “Coogan Act”.
It required that a child actor’s employer set aside 15 per cent of the earnings in a trust (called a Coogan account), and specified the actor’s schooling, work hours, and time off.