The movie adaptation of Chimamanda Adiche’s best seller Half Of Yellow Sun is said to be Nigeria’s most expensive movie till date with a production budget of approximately N1.27 billion ($7.9 Million). Now that the movie has premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, we’re finally getting reviews on what Biyi Bandele and his crew put together.
With the noise Half of A Yellow Sun attracted pre-production and post-production, one could have easily guessed that the movie would be good on some level and then fall short of some element(s) along the line and according to Ghanaian-born film, television, and culture columnist Zeba Blay that’s exactly what happened.
Zeba Blay does a great job reviewing the movie and we figured it’s something others should have a look at.
While a debate (casting debate on the casting of Thandie Newton as Olanna, an Igbo woman) about the representation of darker skinned women and Africans went on for a few weeks, the petition gained no real traction, shooting on the film was completed, and this year the film had its world premiere at TIFF. Was the petition well-founded? Did Thandie as lead work, or was her very presence in the film a slap in the face to the many Nigerian and Igbo actresses who could have potentially played the role (Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji, for instance, was suggested)? It’s difficult to answer these questions because, ultimately, in spite of the issues of colorism that may or may not taint her presence in the film, Newton (excusing her bad Nigerian accent) is one of the best things about the movie.
As Olanna, Newton is wholly likable, the character with which we most identify and sympathize with. She forms a stark and fascinating contrast to Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, Olanna’s status-seeking twin who disapproves of her sisters relationship with the radically minded intellectual Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, turning in yet another superb performance this year). It’s this relationship between the sisters, and this tension, that serves as a sort of metaphor for the film’s historical backdrop.
Beginning in 1960 with Nigeria’s independence from Britain, we follow Olanna as she marries Odenigbo and leaves her wealthy, well-bred existence in Lagos behind for Nsukka, and then to Biafra, all to the dismay of her ruling-class family.
The class tensions between she and her sister link with the tensions rising between the Igbo and Hausa peoples at the same time, as Olanna tries to reconcile her own background and upbringing with the revolutionary modes of her charismatic but complicated husband. It sounds like compelling stuff, and it is for the most part, but unfortunately it all plays out with a disappointing level of predictability, both aesthetically and narratively.
Indeed, Newton provides nearly all the emotional heart of the movie, which at times is given to an almost procedural approach to storytelling – it would have done better to follow the novel’s nonlinear style of jumping from character to character, rather than a chronological narrative that drags at times.
As a debut feature from Bandele, Half of a Yellow Sun is certainly a good first film, but other than its great performances from richly drawn images, there is not much else to recommend in it. It comes down mostly to a question of storytelling: while it’s rarely necessary to hold a movie adaptation in thrall to its source material, it seems as though the movie ultimately lacks some of the inventiveness of style that made author Adichie’s novel so compelling.
While the family dramas are interesting, they seem to take precedence over the war, and often the narrative relies too heavily on melodramatic dialogue and an emotionally manipulative score.
While the appropriateness of Newton’s casting could possibly be ignored for the sake of a great performance, it’s a little more difficult to ignore the fact that, despite its engaging subject matter, Half of a Yellow Sun could probably have used a great deal more subtlety. – This article originally appeared on IndieWire.com: TIFF 2013 Review – Biyi Bandele’s Adaptation Of ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ Misses The Mark