Africa is More Complex than This: Why You Must Watch ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’
Half of a Yellow Sun was an incredible film to watch. A sort of beautiful torture that needs to be experienced again and again and again. Against the enchanting backdrop of a newly independent Nigeria,
Half of a Yellow Sun was an incredible film to watch. A sort of beautiful torture that needs to be experienced again and again and again. Against the enchanting backdrop of a newly independent Nigeria, Biyi Bandele—award-winning playwright, poet, novelist and director—tells the story of the Biafran War through the experiences of Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a young Biafran couple. The film is based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning book of the same title.
Newton and Ejiofor, both BAFTA award winners—the BAFTA is the British equivalent of Hollywood’s Academy Award—give us a raw, intense and honest portrayal of Olanna and Odenigbo. Over several agonizing decisions and tests, we see the lengths to which they go to preserve their love, and their lives, through the brutal three-year war. The dimensions of Olanna came naturally to Newton, who gave a performance more deeply stirring than that of her Christine Thayer in Crash. Ejiofor’s Odenigbo is strong and unrelenting in ways reminiscent of his Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.
The story also centers on Olanna’s relationship with her twin sister, Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), after their return to Nigeria from Britain: their contrasting personalities, and the quiet conflicts that threaten to break their bond forever. In rare form, the screen adaptation stays true to the spirit of the book, Adichie herself stating that she was happy with the film.
Bandele, whose brother was killed in the very war this debut film depicts, shows us the sudden disintegration of the country into its most brutal chapter yet. The Nigerian Civil War cost up to three million lives2, mostly Igbo, and gruesomely prevented the secession of the Igbo region of Nigeria.
This is a story that every Nigerian needs to experience, not just to appreciate the Igbo-Nigerian’s story, but to feel the finality of ruthless state-sponsored warfare. That with the startling brutality of Bandele’s depiction of the Biafran War, we would experience an inch of what millions of our countrymen experienced then and what hundreds experience every day before they meet their Maker—at the hands of those tossed aside by the government’s lack of prudence. That we would feel it, and we would weep such a weeping that ends only with the building of a nation in which these kinds of wars simply cannot happen.
But this is not just a film about Nigeria. This is a film about love, this is a film about terror, this is a film about the beauty and resilience of the human spirit. We rarely see an African love story depicted with such passion and beauty. The central characters were authentically complex, yet equally endearing. The acting was impeccable. The suspense was captivating. From writing, wardrobe and set, to the finer details of visual production, Half of a Yellow Sun is a first-rate film for any viewer.
As we are learning in the wake of the kidnapping of the 300 innocent girls, the problems of Nigeria are largely universal to post-colonial states and deeply interwoven with the economies of the world. If you’ve ever eaten a chocolate bar, put gas in your car, or purchased tires, you’ve likely interacted with Nigeria’s economy and therefore, supported our often-ignoble leadership.
In keeping with their style, the Nigerian government is afraid to face the skeletons that Sun pushes out of the closet—halting its release in Nigeria. However, a government committed to sustainable progress for its people must embrace history and allow it to teach us the permanent lessons that preclude the possibility of repeated failed histories; while also providing the kind of governance that supports progress in the lives of its populace.
In his introduction to the film at the African Film Festival, Biyi Bandele stated that Sun was funded primarily by Nigerians and made in Nigeria by an international crew. This is the first time we see a cast consisting of a balance of African Diaspora and Nigerian talent telling a painful historic story with grandeur and with dignity. This world-class filmmaking is what properly equipped Nigerian directors are capable of and this is the Nollywood that our government should throw resources at.
If you, being international, consider yourself to be a Nigerian leader worth your salt, and Half of a Yellow Sun is not playing in your local theatres, you owe it to posterity to demand from these theatres that the film be shown. You must then organize a significant portion of your population to go and see this film in the same ways in which we went to see Malcolm X, Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, For Colored Girls. This is one of the most important Black films that will ever be made.
- “Africa is so much more complex than this” is a quote given by Biyi Bandele during an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
- American University ICE Case Study