The most hyped Nigerian movie of recent memory, Half Of A Yellow Sun has finally premiered in the country and therefore, Nigerians can finally get to see the movie at various cinemas all over the country.
A few people have been lucky enough to have seen the movie already and one of such shares his opinion of the movie through a review below.
“I guess it is finally time to share my review the film, a task have been putting off. I should obviously declare my interests prior to starting, I am Nigerian, Igbo, in one of my lives an amateur military historian of post 1945 conflicts of which the Nigerian Civil War is one, a great fan of the book Half of a Yellow Sun, its author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who I consider to be a voice, if not the leading Nigerian voice of my generation, director Biyi Bandele who I discovered through his book Burma Boy (which is also crying out to be a film) and lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor about whom I really don’t need to say much- if you don't know ask somebody.”
“The story for those unfamiliar with the book is about 2 sisters from a wealthy Nigerian family who at Nigeria’s independence set out on very different romantic paths, the cool, distant, sophisticated Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) begins a relationship with Richard (Joseph Mawle) an English writer whilst living the luxurious life of the Nigerian upper class while Olanna (Thandie Newton) settles down with a radical University lecturer Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the sleepy, comfortable university town of Nsukka. Olanna and Odenigbo’s idyllic life is interrupted by Odenigbo’s mother- portrayed brilliantly by Onyeka Onwenu (the finest Nigerian singer of the 1980’s metamorphed into a Nollywood actress) who through machinations brings about a rupture that spreads across both sisters relationships, this domestic discord is matched by the even greater crisis rocking the country first with a coup against the corrupt National Government and then a counter coup and subsequent massacres of Eastern Nigerian’s (mainly Igbo's) who were ‘blamed’ for the first coup. The massacres lead to the secession of the Eastern part of Nigeria as an independent country the Republic of Biafra. Whilst this is happening a baby is born and Olanna and Odenigbo flee repeatedly from the advancing Federal troops, sinking deeper and deeper into penury, experiencing the loss and deprivations of war.
It is a very typical story on many levels.
The story of war is typical of Eastern Nigerians of that (my parents) generation; a story of massacred relatives, abandoned property, fleeing, always fleeing, euphoria, defeat, refugees, hunger, death, fear and loss but also of life, love, belief and hope.”
“It is a very Nigerian story on the surface with all the typical ingredients of mismatched lovers, scheming mother, unfaithful men and wronged heartbroken women, but it also tells the story of Nigerian strength and resilience in the face of adversity. The beauty of the book is that it told these very typical stories in an accessible way, with beautiful prose and deep complex characters.
There are 3 main narrators or characters in the book; Ugwu the houseboy, Richard and Olanna. There are those (i.e. me) who believe it is Ugwu’s story; believing that he represents the Nigerian dream and nightmare in extremis, the curse of poverty and the redemptive nature of education, a belief that is almost religious in its acceptance in Nigeria, it is through him many of the books most touching conversations take place and through his eyes the horror of war and the ambiguous nature of evil is expressed. It is also through Ugwu that one of the most interesting plot twists and endings emerges. Others believe it is Richards’s story, the contemplative foreigner, an outsider who comes to love the land, people and a particular person and can thus look on the situation with the fierce, fanatic loyalty of a convert but also the uncomfortable distance of 'the other'. Or finally Olanna’s story, the poor little rich girl, too good, too beautiful and too naive for her own good, gradually discovering her strength as others lose theirs and the world collapses around her. A running metaphor for the inner strength of Nigerian women which is not just true but unfortunately an everyday experience in past and present Nigeria.
Half of a Yellow Sun is thus an extremely difficult book to make into a film, it has so many layers, characters, sub, side and corner corner plots that there is no way all of these can be fit into a feature film. It is not chronological. Thus the film seeks to tell the story in a linear manner using Olanna as the focus.
I will start with the negatives, so I can get them out of the way. I think Thandie Newton should have been Kainene and Annika Noni Rose; Olanna- whether Rose’s British accent could have sustained the entire movie we don’t know but I think Newton fit the slim, cold, complex and rigid Kainene much better, while Rose actually looks like a typical voluptuous, sensuous and warm Igbo girl. I understand the reasons for the casting but it would been better swapped round.”
Ugwu (played by John Boyega) is rather criminally underused, a single scene of him after conscription would have been an opportunity to give a perspective of life for Biafran soldiers and also allowed Boyega to have more dialogue and range than ‘Yes ma, No sah’. Very little is shown of the war itself and the violence that precedes it is covered in two fairly crucial scenes, obviously war scenes are expensive but they are a fundamental part of the book. However the most irritating part is the ending, there were so many endings in the book, that could have been used which not only neatly tied up the story but also gave a certain redemptive or emotive feel to it which were not used.
To be honest virtually all the other negatives are understandable and can be explained away by budget, time or casting issues but the abrupt ending is curious.
Ejiofor delivers as always a calm perfect performance, embodying Odenigbo down to the beard and mannerisms, the book doesn't develop Odenigbo much, making Ejiofor wring all he can from the role. For those who only discovered this fine actor with 12 Years a Slave, please seek out his earlier films (Dirty Pretty Things, GMT, Serenity, Children of Men, 4 Brothers etc) or else wait until he is on stage again (Othello, A Season in Congo etc). If he has not got an Oscar in the next 2 years something is massively wrong. Newton despite the controversy of her casting takes to her role well, Rose carries off Kainene bringing in the sarcastic, dry wit much better towards the end with good lines and a dignified poise.
The standout performances are from Onyeka Onwenu as the scheming Mama a role she plays with such relish that one must genuinely fear for her daughters in law, the gift however is not so much in her being able to convey it but more in the timing and delivery of her lines, the phrases and mannerisms and implacability of her resolve are all very Nigerian.”
“Genevieve Nnaji as Ms Adebayo is outstanding making the most of the tiny role she is given to again deliver a strong performance unfortunately the character in the book and the film are way too small for her to do anything interesting but she still manages to own the Ms Adebayo character, turning her into an arch, sexy foil to Olanna an embodiment of the ‘home based’/ ‘been to’ dichotomy that informs a lot of Nigerian banter. In fact in the context of her performance she would have made a more logical temptress than the actual hapless one. One hopes she has a good agent who can use this is as a cross over vehicle for her and generate more roles in major movies after this.
Mawle is credible as Richard, channelling his awkwardness, besotted infatuation and otherness. There are cameo turns by other Nollywood stars such as Zack Orji and xxx, but there is never enough time or depth to properly develop anyone other than Olanna thus they are simply lucky to get a line or two.
In conclusion this film always had huge oversized clown shoes to fill and would have disappointed the books admirers whatever it did. The only true way to represent Half of a Yellow Sun is in a 10 or more part mini series and even then it will be difficult.
However this film has great scenes, great scenery and cinematography and great actors and acting. It is the embodiment of the Achebeism that if you don’t like how someone tells your story to tell it yourself, thus it was with an outsize sense of pride that I watched this Nigerian film, made with funds raised by Nigerian bankers, starring Nigerian actors, based on a book by a young Nigerian, written and directed by a Nigerian and filmed in Nigeria.
It is an important film for all these reasons alone, besides being a good story and an interesting film, I will see it again, and again, and take my family, friends and colleagues, and when it comes out on DVD, will be my gift for this year.
Half of a Yellow Sun, out now in print and on the big screen. The next time the world will not be silent while we die.”
Credit: Chidi Of Proud To Be African
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