Half of a Yellow Sun – The movie

Once upon a time, beautiful men and women rose as leaders to embrace the awesome promise of an emerging nation, Nigeria. They were poets and soldiers, intellectuals and doers who mesmerized the world with beautiful words and crisp uniforms – and proceeded to take the promise apart brick by brick with graft, incompetence and civil strife. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s epic novel Half of a Yellow Sun about Nigeria’s anxieties and the ensuing civil war spoke to the heart of that broken promise in a unique and mesmerizing way. Half of a Yellow Sun is a beautiful book that should be required reading in every classroom, so that we may never forget. Many years ago, I was so taken by it, I wrote a cringe-worthy review in which I gushed aloud my hope that the book would be turned into a movie.

My prayers were answered, there is a movie and all I can say is that Biyi Bandele the movie director, who also wrote the script, did a great job, never mind the reviews. It is not a perfect movie, but it certainly entertained me. Let me just say that it is important for those who are interested in Nigeria’s history to watch the movie. At the very least, this pretty movie is a conversation starter; you watch the movie and all these questions come rushing at you. You want answers. Nigeria is a nation that deleted history from its classrooms’ curriculum. We need movies like this in each classroom so that children can rediscover the joy of being inquisitive.

What did I like about the movie? Well, start with Bandele’s attention to detail, the period dresses, hairstyles, the music, the Cuban era cars driving on the wrong side of the road and your heart melts. Miriam Makeba starts out the movie with the haunting song, The Naughty Little Flea and Africa comes sailing back into your soul in reverse black and white. I loved the historical pieces dispersed within the narrative, of a young Queen Elizabeth visiting Nigeria in 1956, a young Ojukwu trying to lead Biafra, etc. History buffs will have a field day deconstructing this narrative. And when the ever-befuddled white writer Richard (Joseph Mawle) gets down with sultry Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) on the dance floor and proves with Rex Lawson’s rollicking highlife piece Bere Bote that white men can’t dance, you are grinning and reaching for more popcorn and beer. It is a powerful cast of powerful actors and actresses, more importantly the chemistry among them was electric.

Do not die until you have watched Thandie Newton play Olanna. And the chemistry between the twins Olanna and Kainene has to be seen to be relished, this is simply fine acting. Chiwetel Ejiofor was great as Odenigbo; he came across as hardworking, paying attention to every detail, down to the accent even. And I thought John Boyega played the role of the houseboy Ugwu magnificently. By the way, does anyone notice he looks a bit like a young Denzel Washington? However Onyeka Onwenu and Genevieve Nnaji looked like they needed acting classes, they were mechanical in their thankfully bit roles, the script did not give them the space to strut their stuff, if they had any. Onwenu’s overwrought acting was comical – and not in a good way. Again, kudos to Bandele for assembling a (mostly) star cast.

6 thoughts on “Half of a Yellow Sun – The movie”

  1. Interesting commentary on the movie, Pa. I didn’t like it as much. I read the book so many times, and I was so eager to see the movie, but when I watched it, it just felt flat. I appreciate the work that Biyi Bandele did, but I thought there were too many holes in the film. The book was a multi-layered story with varied points of view but the movie felt like it had been stripped of it’s layers and was one-dimensional. There were too many interesting characters missing. I wanted to see Madu and his interactions with Kainene, I wanted to see the Hausa prince, Mohammed. I would have preferred to see a bit more of Ugwu’s point of view, including his family background. Even the scenes of the war felt “bland” and a bit forced, I couldn’t really connect it with the rest of the story. I watched it with someone who hadn’t read the book and he kept asking for an explanation of who was who and what was going on. I had to draw on my knowledge of the book to fill in the blanks. The cast…. didn’t really do it for me, apart from Anika as Kainene.
    Still, I’m glad it’s a film now so our history will be reaching a wider audience.

  2. I’m just now reading this review and my old buddy (yes, he is!) “Towncrier” did not disappoint. Sometimes I think God had to decide who got what between us. He gave Ikhide the mind I covet and gave me the good looks that I don’t know what to do with. Lesson to all: go for the great mind, it trumps good looks. Chicks dig a good mind; ask any real chick… but I digress.

    I just have to object (in fact vehemently object) to the appraisal of both Onyeka Onwenu’s and my darling (even though she is yet to know it) Nnaji’s acting; think Onwenu nailed her role as a vexed meddlesome mother in anxious times, the melodrama and “over-acting” had to be intentional to keep the character real. That’s how I pictured Odenigbo’s mother when I was reading the novel.

    As for Genny (my pet name for the hottie), I think she was aware of her star power and was purposely keeping herself subdued so that her cameo doesn’t over-shadow the cast. This may have short-changed the feisty professor she portrayed. But how do you hold your own and chip in your voice in heated political discussions with men in the late 60s Nigeria and still preserve your feminine charm?

    Maybe that’s just the fan in me speaking but I loved it all.

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