There is no doubt that ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is one of the most meaningful narratives that has come out of Nigeria, maybe Africa so far. In my opinion, it lines up with the iconic books of ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Lion and the Jewel’ and other great narratives written by great writers. It is excellently written such that it commands different emotions in almost everyone who reads it. Personally, I laughed, cried, got both excited and sad, even days after it was finished. I marketed it to as many people as possible, convincing them to read it too. Simply put, it both entertained and educated me.
By now, you already know, I loved the book (Let me spell it out, just in case you didn’t cue in, in the first paragraph). So you can only imagine my excitement when I heard a film was going to be made out of it. I couldn’t wait! I followed every step and news, waiting for it to be released. I was rather irritated when its release was stalled in Nigeria, and excited when it was finally showing. Long story, short, I finally watched it and my first comment; it should never have been done!
The film; Half of a Yellow Sun was disappointing!!!!! I felt (still feel) like an excellent book has been defiled. First things first, the acting and production was really good and if you haven’t read the book, you probably will be impressed. But if you have read the book and it impacted you like it did me, you would be left, disappointed. Way too much was lost! Just way too much!!!
Let’s start with the characters: The selection was generally good. My favourite was Chiwetel Ejiofor who embodied the character of Odenigbo remarkably. Ugwu, Mama and Richard were also excellently played by John Boyega, Onyeka Onwenu and Joseph Mawle respectively; it was just the way I imagined them to look like. Having said that, I will also say that I was still left wanting as the film failed in projecting the depth and dynamics of most of the characters. We miss Richard’s inner conflict as well as how his relationship develops with Kainene, Olannna, Odenigbo and his group of ‘revolutionary’ friends. Same applies with Ugwu; we completely miss how his character develops as well; from the village boy to the man who begins to teach lessons, have sexual interactions with different women, at different times (That word is italicized just in case you were thinking otherwise), get conscripted and even begins to write a book.
Personally, my favourite was always Kainene. Her character from the book is bold, opinionated, blunt, strong and realistic. We also see her personality build up through the book. She starts off as being very strong, decisive and logical; not easily given to emotions. However, as the war comes and she is affected by death and other effects of the war around her, we see a tender version of her. But in it all, she never loses her edge. Her relationship with her twin, Olanna is complicated, provocative and somewhat, conflicted but also sisterly. It is a relationship torn between love and jealously on both parts but love always overtook. However, Kainene in the film failed at projecting this character. She lacked the edge, the aura and stance of the woman in the book and for me that was too sad. They destroyed her character.
On the other hand, there is Olanna. She is the sweeter and nicer version of the twins, not to mention more beautiful. In many ways her relationship with her family and those around her is defined by this beauty and although she opposes it, she also exploits it as well. In the book, we see her personality and character develop almost in an opposite direction of her sister’s. She starts off a bit insecure and unsure of herself and we feel her inner conflicts especially on how she fits into Odenigbo’s life. Her personality is also affected by her sister’s character in subtle ways that we feel that she envies her (Kainene) strength, independence and dominance. However, as events unfold with the war, the reality of her new life and situation transforms her into a strong woman; a very strong one. She quickly keys into the ugly actuality of their lives and is soon responding to events in an admirable way. Now in the film, Olanna’s character starts off too strong that we miss all of these inner conflicts. Her personality even dominates that of Kainene’s, which is just a wrong interpretation (I would say in my opinion, but I am correct, so I wouldn’t **winks**).
On to the plot itself; too much from its primary source, the book, was lost. I felt like if you have never read the book or did not have a background story of the Nigerian Civil war, you would have lost the storyline at some point. There were parts of the book I looked forward to that was not in the film; really good parts. For instance, the genesis of the war, how it affected and redefined Olanna and Odenigbo’s life and relationship, how it affected Ugwu, his conscription and war actions, how Kainene dealt with Richard and Olanna’s betrayal and so much more. Also missing was the general effect of the war on the people, the hunger, the lack of freedom, the deaths and the pain etc. We could see glimpses of it but not enough to sell the depth of the story. Basically, the ‘emotional truths’ the book was all about was not translated into the film.
Having really thought about it, ‘Half of a yellow Sun’ is a narrative that I think would be almost impossible to translate into a film. Every page in itself is a story and these stories are interlinked to create an epic narrative. How then do you take this book and turn it into a 120mins film? A truly difficult task indeed!
Nevertheless, there were some scenes in the film that was really good. An example was the scene of the massacre at the airport. One word: Overwhelming! I saw it coming but when it came, I was still shocked!! Couldn’t speak for a few. The thought that this was actually inspired by true events horrified and humbled you.
All in all, I have finally seen the long awaited film, Half of a Yellow Sun and all it did was make me want to run back to read the book mostly because I felt with the film had robbed such an excellent narrative of its essence.