Nigeria’s Civil War on Film: Love, Betrayal & Tragedy

half of a yellow sun 2

A beautiful love story is set against the brutal civil war that nearly split Nigeria in two.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on May 13, 2014.

Movies rarely do books justice, and thus I was surprised that the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun captured the nuance that author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie achieved in her award-winning novel.

The stellar ensemble cast is partially responsible. Wealthy Nigerian twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are each involved in romantic relationships that are effected by the political and social unrest underway in Nigeria during the Biafran civil war of the late 1960s. Olanna, the caramel-complexioned and somewhat prissy sister is dating (and eventually marries) a sharp-tongued revolutionary professor by the name of Odenigbo (played by Afro-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor). Kainene, the chocolate-complexioned sister who’s funny and delightfully acerbic, is dating a white British writer by the name of Richard (Joseph Mawle). Throughout the course of Richard’s time in Nigeria, he begins to identify as a Nigerian and ultimately a Biafran. It’s such an interesting character arc to see this white man come into himself in Africa.

Newton’s and Rose’s on-screen chemistry is palpable. They’re distant, yet synchronized—as is often the norm for sisters. Both Olanna and Kainene are smart as whips, cultured (they were schooled in London), and have an uncomfortable relationship with the wealth they stand to inherit.

Then there’s the story of Ugwu (John Boyega), the village boy who comes to live with Olanna and Odenigbo in the city as their housekeeper. His blossoming relationship is with modernity and the Western way of life. Odenigbo, a pro-Igbo zealot, wants to shake Ugwu of his subservience and teach him the importance of getting an education. Ugwu, in turn, is quiet as a mouse, yet seems to have an upperhand on Odenigbo in another way: Ugwu is very observant and is aware of people’s ulterior motives, like how he senses that Odenigbo’s mother is trying to drive a wedge between her son and Olanna.

“Go back and tell your fellow witches that you did not see my son!” Mama Odenigbo sneers at Olanna during their first encounter. Her pidgin English makes the cut from the verbal lashing all the more deep.

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