Growing up in St. Louis, my Mom’s childhood friends seemed more like family members. One who still runs across my mind from time to time is my “Nigerian Uncle” who was fatally wounded during a car crash on a New York freeway.
What I remember most about him was his charm, sense of humor and love for his family…especially his children. Not once, did I ever consider that his life in Nigeria would have been drastically different than here in America. After screening Beasts of No Nation, it became clear to me there was indeed a drastic difference in his existence further verified by watching “Half of a Yellow Sun”.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” tells the story of the Nigerian-Biafra war (also know as the Nigerian Civil War 1967-70) as told through her characters Olanna, Ugwu and Richard. Having lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, Adichie wanted to engage with her history in order to make sense of her present.
The thought of the egos and indifference of men leading to the unnecessary deaths of men and women and children is enraging an unforgivable.
Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejoifor) and Olanna (Thandie Newton) couldn’t be more different. Different hues of black and different economical backgrounds. Ugwu (John Boyega) is a 13 year-old village boy when he comes to work loyally for Odenigbo. Olanna’s twin sister, Kainene, (Anika Noni Rose) a woman with a dry sense of humor, tired by the pompous company she runs for her father. Kainene’s lover Richard (Joseph Mawle) is an Englishman who has come to Nigeria to explore Igbo-Ukwu art.
Each of the aforementioned actors are amazingly under estimated in our industry. Each and every one of them give these characters a depth and life that reaches far beyond a page in a novel. Anika Noni Rose is an anomaly. There isn’t a character on the face of the earth she can’t inhabit . As Kainene, she makes your heart bleed and makes one long to have a sister as understanding and forgiving as she.
Ditto goes for Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. There are simply astonishing to watch! The one who steals the film though is Onyeka Onwenu as Mama. Baby, she give everyone grief and has no regrets – EVER and is hi-larious! However, the scene where she refuses to leave her home before the rebels approach reminded me so very much of all the strong women here in America during slavery and the Civil Rights movement who were the backbone and strength for their families no matter what.
We are so spoiled as Americans. Even today, there are people living in countries where freedom is not an option. Putting down roots is a luxury and family becomes a memory in the blink of an eye. Half of a Yellow Sun will make you reflect on a time that for some in Nigerians is still a reality. Originally released in 2014, you can rent this film now on Netflix or YouTube.