Sunday, 13 April 2014

Half Of A Yellow Sun - Review of the movie

The flag of the Republic of Biafra - Courtesy of Wikipedia

A history missing
I was born just before the first military coup in the fledgling Federal Republic of Nigeria, far away from the madding cacophony and chaos that presaged the breakdown of order, the massacre of Igbos in the North and the civil war.
We returned to Nigeria, in the year the civil war ended, my parents excited and ready to participate in the new Nigeria led by the military leader Yakubu Gowon, whose surname became the reconciliatory acronym of Go On With One Nigeria.
The history of Nigeria that I did in school ended just after Nigerian independence and took off again after the end of the Civil War. It meant we as Yorubas from the South-West of Nigeria could choose wherever we wanted to live in the country, as we first set up base in Kaduna and then in Jos.
The stories that informed the reasons for the turmoil in the Western Region, the corruption and misgovernment that led to the first and second military coups of 1966 and the swagger of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were just the subject of folklore.
Making history obvious
The closest I came to appreciating what happened in the Civil War was in the photographs taken by Peter Obe, in a book titled, Nigeria: A Decade of Crises in Pictures (Paperback) which contained iconic and haunting photographs of the Republic of Biafra during the Civil War.
Enter, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel that apparently wove the realities of Biafra into a human interest story of everyday lives and how people were affected by the war.
I never read the book, but I have just returned from watching the Half of a Yellow Sun film showing in just one cinema theatre in Manchester.
Having read and watched reviews of the film, it had somewhat prepared me for possible disappointment, but there was a compelling need to see for myself.
Half of a fading sun
The film was well made, the acting superb and worthy of great accolades, but I am not sure if what is said of the novel did translate properly to the screenplay that became the template for the film.
I cannot say that I learnt anything I did not already know of the Republic of Biafra apart from the visual representation of the geographical landmass that constituted Biafra.
The flag of Biafra, composed of a horizontal tricolour with the yellow glow of a rising sun was as optimistic as the braggadocio of the man that led the secession from Nigeria, but one can safely say the sun had already set on Biafra from the get-go.
A warped history
Whether much could have been done to have the original coups more encompassing that it did not seem like an Igbo coup in a futile power grab can be the subject of extensive debate, but the birth of Nigeria as an independent country was as flawed and fractured as it could ever be.
There probably was never a golden dawn of Nigeria beyond the speech that the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa gave on the night we gained independence on the 1st of October, 1960.
A privileged view of the war
However, back to the film, the narratives were unusual and somewhat foreign in my view, as it revolved around two highly educated daughters and their love and family lives.
Thandie Newton playing Olanna with her love interest Odenigbo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and her sister Anika Noni Rose as Kainene with her American husband Joseph Mawle as Richard.
I did not recognise the songstress Onyeka Onwenu for her part as Odenigbo’s mother; times do mature the visage of those one once knew so well, decades ago. Since, I am not a Nollywood fan, the other actors were just actors.
Half of a Yellow Sun in the movie was the Biafran War from the perspective of the very privileged and well-connected in the early 1960’s.
An unfamiliar Nigeria
Throw in infidelity, a love child, an adoption, an interracial marriage and the luxury of being able to pack a bag and drive off in a car when trouble came close, and this became a very different Nigeria from that of those who did see suffering.
The violence and tragedies in the film cannot be said to have done justice to bringing life to a history very few Nigerians born after 1970 know anything about.
Yet, there were two characters that found opportunity by being in privileged surroundings, Ugwu the houseboy who witnessed much, said little and had the benevolence of being sent back to school where at the end of the film we are told became a writer and Baby, the love child who was accepted by Olanna as her daughter and eventually became a medical doctor.
Just a good film
I do not know if the film was to spare us the gruesomeness of the war or it was more intent on the love soap opera at the expense of the war.
Yet, the mind of Odenigbo was interesting enough about his revolutionary zeal and his fearful view of Nigerian identity as was the capitalist machinations of Kainene as a profiteer in the war, who in one of her runs went missing and was never seen again.
A good film in general, but not one to do Nigerian history at a leisurely pace with sweet popcorn and Pepsi Cola.


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