Half of a Yellow Sun is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second book; after the successful Purple Hibiscus and I have a battered copy, bought back in 2007.
I admit, when I initially realised the subject matter, I wasn’t pleased. I’ve read about the Biafra war in Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Survive the Peace, Festus Iyayi’s Heroesand a bit of it in Rosina Umelo’s Felicia; so what more about Biafra still needs to be told? But from the first page to the next one and to the next one enthralled me; the book was about life before and during the war and the story revolved around the strong willed fraternal twins- Olanna and Kainene; Olanna’s eventual husband Odenigbo, Kianene’s English boyfriend Richard and Olanna and Odenigbo‘s servant, Ugwu. The way Ms. Adichie told the story was as if she was right there at the time (Adichie was born 1977) and it was obviously a work of meticulous research and her own creativity. Despite the sober tone of the story, I honestly enjoyed it. Adichie was bold and unrestrained and really gave it all she could.
So when I heard there was going to be a movie adaptation, I was thrilled and I was able to view the trailer on YouTube; vowing to save up and watch it at the E- Centre; the nearest cinema where I live. British Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast as Odenigbo. Ejiofor recently made Nigeria proud for his recent portrayal of Solomon Northup in Twelve Years A Slave for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar(which went to Matthew McConaughhey for Dallas Buyers’ Club instead) and earned him a BAFTA award. Olanna is played by English actress Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose is Kainene, English actor Joseph Mawle (currently in Game of Thrones) is Richard Churchill, veteran singer and actress Onyeka Owenu is Odenegbo’s mother, Zack Orji is Chief Ozobia; the twins’ father and Genevieve Nnaji as Odenegbo’s Yoruba colleague- Miss Adebayo; Tina Mba as the twins' mum and Gloria Young as their aunt.
But then I started hearing reports here and there about its première here being cancelled and then the rumours started; that the Federal Government banned its screening! I was like... what the f***?
However, the reports say the movie was actually banned by the Nigerian Films and Censors Board. Probably because of the sex scenes, I initially thought. Long before the adaptation, Ms. Adichie got some criticism about the rather graphic sex scenes in the book, very ironic since there was a lot of that in Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana & Jagua Nana’s Daughter and that was a very long time ago. And many Nigerian women read Harlequin and Mills & Boon. Seriously, are we that straitlaced in this country?
But it may be another reason entirely. Professor Chinua Achebe’s last book before he died was There Was A Country and it caused quite the controversy here as it apparently brought a lot of bad memories best left forgotten. Before the war started, there were the terrible riots between the Igbos and the Hausas. To put it bluntly, many people were slaughtered; even children. This was graphically described in Half of a Yellow Sun. Reading it is one thing but having to watch the tribal riots’ re-enactment was apparently a cause of worry and concern; it would no doubt upset the viewers and in a country where the political atmosphere is already tense, there would probably nasty repercussions- especially with the Boko Haram issue yet to be resolved. Hence, for that to be avoided it looks like we won’t see Half Of A Yellow Sun... at least for a while.
No country exactly has a savory history... that we know. The USA with its slavery/ segregation era, the assassination of some of their presidents, the time when black men would be lynched without trial (the basis for Billie Holiday’s song, Strange Fruit ), Italy, when scientists were shouted down, the Inquisition in Spain, apartheid in South Africa, The Holocaust in Germany etc and there’s been movies about these past events. In Nigeria, it seems we simply want to shrink away from the past... our core historical past. In Primary School there’s the subject Social Studies, where the pupils are taught states and capitals, what the symbols in the arms of government mean, about Jaja of Opobo and how Mary Slessor ended the killing of twins. But History is absent in the secondary school curriculum... why? Surely, when one wants to know where he’s going, he must know where you’ve been... that’s the aim of History. But since History isn’t taught in secondary schools anymore because it’s considered a touchy subject, perhaps that’s the same reason why Half of a Yellow Sun is not to be screened, this is a visually re-enacted piece of history; the main characters are fictional but the war and the riots aren't.
I’m not pleased Half of a Yellow Sun’s movie adaptation is getting this treatment from the Censors Board. But considering the problems we’re still tackling right now... it wouldn't for things to escalate more, like tribal fights. But this is 2014. Can’t they at least give Nigerians the benefit of the doubt... that nothing horrible would happen after it’s released, after all the book itself is still selling away well in the bookshops. Do the Actors’ Guild agree with this ban or will they stage a protest?
Maybe, maybe not.