When I learned last year that Chimamanda Adichie’s book ” Half Of A Yellow Sun” was finally going to be made into a film, I got excited and knew it was a film I really wanted to watch. Last week, I called on my local Odeon Cinema to enquire if they were planning to screen the film only to sadly discover that they weren’t. The friendly and helpful attendant at the cinema promptly enquired: “Is it that Nigerian film with Chiwetel?” and suggested a couple of other cinemas in London that would be best bets for “Nigerian films and other Nollywood film.”
I felt a bit disappointed by this prompt qualification and dismissal of this film as a Nigerian film. It was neither because I thought there was a sinister motive behind that nor because I was not proud of the Nigerian origin of the film. It was probably because, deep inside, I had imagined this film to be worthy of appealing to a very wide audience just like the book it was made from and its author. When I finally got to a cinema that showed the film, I was happy that the audience in the hall were quite diverse.
The immediate challenge while watching the film was that I was torn between the film, the book and the War itself. Being based on a real book I have read, I was gazing to see how well the novel would be captured. Being based on a real war, I was anxious to see the first public portrayal of the Nigerian-Biafran conflict of the late 60s. The film exacerbated this by including actual footage of the war in a few places. This obviously means that the film is judged on so many criteria. I saw a group of people gather after the screening to chat about the film. Interestingly, their discussion focused the interpretation of the war itself. It is this interpretation of the war that has probably led to the film being banned in Nigeria by the Nigeria Film and Video Censorship Board. This is really sad! It seems that after 45 year of the war, we are not yet ready to look ourselves in the mirror!
The internationally renowned actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, that played the main roles did a fantastic job. So did the local stars such as Genevieve Nnaji, Onyeka Onwenu and others. They looked and sounded so natural that I almost took them for real. Onyeka Onwenu, one of my most favourite artists, played her part of a jealous mother-in-law so well that I was momentarily infuriated with hatred for her. The live music and vibrant dancing at the middle class parties seized me with nostalgic sentiments. There is so much sex though. One particular episode of a day time sexual encounter between Odenigbo and the house girl seems over exaggerated in noise levels. Thandie Newton really sentimentally captured the dedication and determination of a woman madly in love, as well as how a war such Biafra can turn an educated upper class woman into helpless refugee struggling to make ends meet. Her pronunciation of Igbo words were sometimes very funny. The whole setting portrayed a romantic story being interrupted by war rather than a love story in a war.
On the one hand, the use of the war footages reminds you that there is a historic context to this story and that there were real casualties. One the other hand, It seems like a distraction, and the contrast in quality is stark given the 45 years gap! I was often of the impression that some of those parts could have been acted out. The acted out episodes of the war itself was captivating. My heart nearly jumped out when the war erupted with incessant shootings. I struggled to understand why those soldiers were speaking French though.
This is really a film worth watching. It says so much about Africa immediately post independence. It takes you through the realities of war. It tell amazing love stories. It is intellectual. It is nothing like most of the Nollywood films I know (no offence meant) about that compulsorily include religious cults and spiritual warfare as this badly written tweet below mocks.
— ayodele olofintuade (@aeolofintuade) April 25, 2014