By Adaeze Umolu
There are many things that happen in Nigeria which gets us all talking. Usually along the lines of a bomb blast, fuel price hike and the occasional our president just made ‘Times 100 most influential people in the World list’. Showbiz is not left out with D’banj and Don Jazzy at war. This time what got Nigerians talking in the early months of 2012 and in recent days is a novel-cum-movie in the making. Yes, a literarily work of art, that’s going to get turned into a big budget film. Chimamanda’s Ngozi Adichie’s highly successful, 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction recipient and internationally acclaimed novel Half of a Yellow Sun is been adapted for the big screen, where the screen play will be directed and written by Biyi Bandele. This news has been received very well especially among Nigerians, the novelist been a Nigerian herself.
There’s nothing surprising about an entire nation excited over the making of a movie from a book. Similar effects occurred when it was announced that J K Rowling’s Harry Porter novels would be adapted for the big screen. In Rowling’s case it was all about the British heritage and how the Harry Potter movies were a true British treasure that inflicted itself upon the rest of the globe. One actor who eventually played a role in one of the movie sequels went as far as saying that just getting a small part in the Potter series was so important and a stamp on your identity as a British actor.
Half of a Yellow Sun evokes similar sentiments from Nigerians. The novel is set in the period leading to and during the Biafra war till its final days, a period where the late Ojukwu led his people to war, to disintegrate from the nationNigeria through bloody battles. Most parts of the novel are set in Igbo land, the South Eastern region of Nigerian. In November 2011 Ojukwu passed away in a hospital inLondon, he was unquestionably the figure behind the force of the essence of this novel, theBiafra war. In March 2012 he was given the greatest burial in Nigerian history. All of this, one assumes, automatically adds to the buzz around this novel’s adaptation, which if shot accordingly will show theBiafra war in its true state.
As much as the war is set in Igbo land, the main characters of this novel are also Igbo. These characters will be portrayed in the movie and a cast list was announced just as the adaptation was. The issue which got people talking is a predominant non-Nigerian cast playing all of the main characters. The male lead is however been played by Nigerian-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who happens to be Igbo. The other main cast members mentioned include Dominic Cooper and Thandie Newton who is of mixed parentage. Nigerians are talking because they can’t understand why an essentially Igbo story is been played by foreign actors. And I can’t understand why Nigerians expect that they will decide who plays their cherished roles for a film whose rights have been purchased by ‘the British’. Andrea Calderwood, producer of ‘The Last King of Scotland’, and Gail Egan, Executive producer of ‘The Constant Gardener’ is collectively producing this movie.
For the benefit of doubt, let us step away and revaluate what has caused this sort of sentiment. It could it be the ever portrayal of Nigerian characters in hit foreign movies or dramas where these characters are suppose to be Nigerian but speak with a different accent. The BBC well thought out television mini-series, ‘Blood and Oil’, so easily comes to mind. The movie ‘District 9’ is not far off either. The sentiment about the use of the Igbo language across the story is also another question as to how a foreign actor will deal with local pronunciations amongst other issues. An online petition created by Ashley Akunna was launched asking people to sign that ‘Thandie Newton be dropped from featuring in the film, as she cannot properly play Olanna or Kainene, the female lead characters’ in the novel. This petition is still live, as at the time of writing this article, and it has attracted a lot of mixed feelings negative and positive. The actual petition though has had very few signing up.
Recently it was announced that in this movie there would be a famous Nigerian actor, Genevieve Nnaji, who is arguably considered the most successful Actress in the country and some would argue, the African continent. She has been referred to as the Julia Roberts of Africaa title acknowledged by ‘Oprah’ too. Her movie credits include ‘Bursting Out’ an Emen Isong movie and ‘The Mirror Boy’ where she won an award for her breakthrough performance in the Monaco Film Festival, France. Genevieve has a massive fan base across the globe and her presence in this movie is causing additional attention around the novel-turn-movie and who plays what role. Genevieve fans want her to play the lead role since she has been tagged as the best from Nigeria. There are also those who feel that though Genevieve is a brilliant actress she does not suit the physical or character attributes of any of the twin sisters in the novel. Anyone could easily make that claim if they have read the novel as Chimamanda does a brilliant job of painting ‘to the letter’ what these sisters look like. Therefore this is my take on what Half of a Yellow Sun would look like if the main characters, the twin sisters, were an all Nigerian cast.
I would present Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde to play Olanna because Chimamanda takes no prisoners in letting us know that Olanna is an exquisitely beautiful fair skinned woman with a height and presence to elevate her beauty. Omotola immediately springs to mind as the actor to pull off the elegance and intelligence the character portrays in the novel. My second candidate for another main character, one of the twin sisters, Kainene would be Stephanie Okereke. The arguments would simply be that Kainene is not a beautiful woman but Stephanie is. To that I say thank heavens for makeup artists on movie sets. For Stephanie to pull off that role she would have to be ‘de-beautified’, stripped of all that makes Stephanie the beautiful woman that we know her as. My choice of Stephanie is simple; she has the facial jaw lines that reflect the kind of strength and presence that Kainene has in this novel. She is of a darker skin tone and Stephanie suits perfectly with this complexion. Kainene is also tall just like her sister and Stephanie just like Omotola has the height of a run way Model. Stephanie in her movies comes across strong and even sometimes stubborn just like Kainene. Both women in my opinion would suit for these roles. They would have to carry the British accent of both women and possibly drop some weight to fully capture the skinny size especially by Kainene who would be played by Stephanie.
These actresses are the two who easily come to mind when I think of the twin sisters in Chimamanda’s novel. I think Genevieve will do well in the role she has been given or any other role for that matter. We wish her the best and everyone will be watching to see what happens with that petition. Even as I put this article together I cannot predict an outcome but I do know for certain that he that has purchased the rights and intends to produce the movie will select the cast. The arguments around the cast, like all things show business, will only bring more publicity to the film. I dare say that the argument around Genevieve has earned the film a ‘relevance’ effect in addition to the fact that it’s already an internationally acclaimed novel. We, Nigerians, eagerly await this movie.
Adaeze Umolu is a creative writer for different platforms. She also writes for allafricancinema.com