What abomination? 7 reasons a Nigerian won’t be lead ‘actress’ in the Chimamanda movie

by Emmanuel Osanedum

Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde

On Wednesday last week, there were auditions for the movie everyone’s talking about – the movie for Chimamanda’s Adichie’s seminal book Half Of A Yellow Sun, driven by Nigerian writer and film maker Biyi Bandele.

Shooting is scheduled to begin around March and our actors dusting up their knowledge of the novel, waiting for auditions and casting calls.

But what would a movie about the Nigerian Civil War be without some controversy. So, some good people have started a petition that Hollywood actress Thandie Netwon should not be “allowed” to play the lead role of Kainene because she is not Nigerian in what is a uniquely Nigerian tale, and if you would have it, she is too “yellow” to be Igbo.

(See the petition HERE)

According to them, “the casting of Thandie Newton as an Igbo woman is not only false, it helps promote the idea that light skin and curly hair is the only way black woman can be represented in the media, because that is the only way they are attractive. This casting choice is an abomination to Igboland.”


Unfortunately, there are at least 7 reasons why it is very unlikely either Omotola or Genevieve would be displacing Newton anytime soon.

1. Show me the money

At the end of the day, the movie-making business is a business, and there is not enough money in Nollywood as it stands now to make this film. None of our existing producers or our marketers can muster the amount of funding that will give Bandele peace of mind, which means he has to go to foreign financiers. Unfortunately, in Hollywood it’s all about being bankable, and as our stars are still local champions (sorry, selling to Africans Diaspora doesn’t count as ‘international’), no investor outside our shores is likely to put his money on them selling his films. Bola Tinbu reportedly put his money fown to bring Fela! The Musical to Nigeria. Is he ready to do the same for this Igbo story? How about Jim Nwobodo? Bianca Ojukwu? Nduka Obaigbena? Anyone?

Thandie Newton

2. Hello, who’s watching?

This movie will be watched by an international audience ultimately – as it is not a Nollywood film, and it will aspire for Hollywood’s attention going by the track record of Bandele’s team (his wife and partner was behind the Ugandan story Last King of Scotland). Is there any of our female leads here that Americans will want to watch? My bet is it’s a no. There’s a reason why all our ‘international’ movies from Ije to Amazing Grace were essentially acclaimed only by a local audience or by a narrow cinema of foreigners. There’s a reason why Meryl Streep was Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady or Forest Whittaker as Idi Amin. It wasn’t for lack of access to Judy Dench. People want stars they know.

3. We have work to do

You want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Our stars aren’t yet on the top of their games – exactly why the entire Genevieve Nnajji James Bond tale was one joke taken too far. Seriously, have you seen our actresses enunciate? Yes, Genevieve has gone father than, say, Uche Jombo, but still. The reach for accents they cannot master, the cultural factors that haven’t been un-learned, over-acting peculiar to Nollywood, a living out of typecasting… I could go on and on? If I was an international movie producer not interested in developing Nollywood – which these guys are – I will only go for actors that work.

4. Are our stars ready to audition?

Some people will say this is moot as everyone from Kanayo O. Kanayo to Patience Ozokwor was at the auditions last week. But pay close attention – we are talking Thandie Netwon here. Can you truly imagine our female lead super-stars lounging around the offices of Seke Somolu waiting to be auditioned for the role? Just imagine it – Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde… who else is a star? Well, you get the picture. Our Nollywood has gotten so big yet gotten so small that perhaps we have killed the potential for our stars before they can really spread their wings. Which would be sad.

5. Who’s shouting?

The truth is that like most things in the world – it’s those who know how to strategically make their cases that get things done for their interest groups. It’s the reason we have associations, lobby groups and the entire works. What do we have here? The Actors Guild of Nigeria? Seriously. I doubt they have the capacity for anything else but arguing over positions in the guild. Influential artist managers like Mildred Okwo and Emem Ema are able to form a powerful lobby for those they represent – but in our Nigeria at the moment, there are not enough of them for a major upheaval. We also don’t have powerful film critics and others who will make production so uncomfortable for the film-makers that they have no choice but to give us that role. Anyone willing to change this?

6. Too yellow? Huh?

The guys who wrote up that pesky petition complained majorly that Ms. Newton is too ‘yellow’ for the role and would therefore put a burden on “African women” to aspire to those complexion demands. And lord knows we have a bleaching problem in our land! For real? Now, there are all kinds of things wrong with this – especially since, for instance, our dear Rita Dominic is as “yellow” as they come – but let’s leave the patronising tone. In these days of Hollywood technology, is there such a thing as a person “too yellow” that a little post-production cannot take care please. Spare me.

7. Excuse you?

This is the one that is ‘paining’ me. Excuse me, why would you give another man the burden of meeting your expectations for his own creative work? We all have had this book in our hands for years now, and no one moved. Now someone has taken the steps to tell a story that we have refused to tell – and now we have woken up with demands? Like Nigerians will say, if you no like am, go and do your own!




Comments (15)

  1. From your comments Dear Rose, it seems quite obvious who is half baked between you and Hauwa. She did justice to the topic and sadly like many other black people, you do not like the truth. Way to go HAUWA, very good piece

  2. how sickning to read these comments! hauwa i guess you are not qualified to dissect this either since you are Nigerian too and half baked. this whole analysis is pathetic! is this borne out of genuine convictuin of just jealousy of our own? so thandie newton is a better actress than omotola or genny simply because she's acted bigger budgets with better directors. the girl who acted sarafina was she not even a rukie? Nigerians and Black people mentality….hisssss

  3. Uj do you consider these actresses to be Nigerian simply because of their names? There's nothing Nigerian about them from their profiles. Nicole Kidman could play the role for all I care as long as she does the story justice! I would just love to see a Nigerian story get the acclaim of Last King of Scotland and Invictus (where Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela). We've had enough mediocrity in Nollywood if you ask me, even the name says it all. There is no quota system when it comes to entertainment. Roles have to be based on merit because viewers must get their money's worth. by Adesuwa

  4. And probably yellower 😉

  5. Uj, I feel you but all these names u've listed have one foreign influence or the other….grew up in London, raised in Washington..etc, so I bet u they're probably no more Nigerian than thandie Newton.

  6. I appreciaite your analysis and I quite agree with the fact that nollywood actresses may not be competent enough to handle the part or even be bankable stars. However here is a list of Nigerian international actresses and the movies they have been in.

    Enuka Okuma

    Actress, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

    “ She's on Rookie Blue ” – pinkprincess2994

    Hope Olaide Wilson

    Actress, I Can Do Bad All by Myself

    Rakie Ayola

    Actress, Sahara

    Sophie Okonedo

    Actress, Hotel Rwanda

    Annie Ilonzeh

    Actress, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

    “ She's the first black Charlie's Angel ” – pinkprincess2994

    Carmen Ejogo

    Actress, Away We Go

    Carmen Ejogo grew up in London. She began her acting career in the UK working with directors such as Micheal Winterbottom and Kenneth Brannagh. She broke through to international acclaim in 1997, as Eddie Murphy's on screen paramour in the the movie Metro. Later, Ejogo disclosed the full extent of her dramatic range with a skilled portrayal of Sally Hemings…

    Megalyn Echikunwoke

    Actress, Fix

    Megalyn Ann Echikunwoke was born May 28, 1983 in Spokane, Washington. Her father is Nigerian and her mother is of Caucasian descent. Her last name Echikunwoke means "leader of men" and Megalyn is the granddaughter of a Nigerian tribal leader of the Igbo, which technically makes her African royalty. She is known for playing "Nicole Palmer" in the first season of 24…

    Osas Ighodaro

    Actress, Cadillac Records

    Born and raised in the home of the New York Yankees, Osas Ighodaro is a Bronx Native. She hails from an entire Nigerian-born family. While proud of their strong heritage, Osas and her loved ones are equally proud that she is a part of her family's first American – born generation. As a Nigerian-American…

    Judith Shekoni

    Actress, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties

    British born Judi Shekoni is an exotic mix of African, Spanish and British descent. She is soon to be seen as 'Zafrina' the leader of the Amazons in Twilight Sagas: Breaking Dawn. Brought up in Britain, she has trained extensively including Shakespeare and the Classics. Her career in the UK included roles on every major television channel…

    Vera Ephraim

    Actress, Blood Tokoloshe

    Vera Ephraim's full name is Vera Nkechi Anenyeonu. She is from Anambra state, Nigeria. "Ephraim" is her dad's first name, she decided to use it for her professional name as a sign of their support in her life and profession. Her parents died when she was very young. Acting and dancing have been a long life passion for Vera…

    Adepero Oduye

    Actress, Pariah

    Adepero Oduye hails from Brooklyn, New York City by way of Nigeria. She is a graduate of Cornell University; and has studied acting with Wynn Handman, Austin Pendleton, and Susan Batson. Her name is pronounced "Add-eh-pair-o Oh-due-yay." Her theatre credits include Danai Gurira's play Eclipsed, at the Yale Repertory Theatre; The Bluest Eye…

    Oluwabunmi Adaeze Mojekwu – Eastenders


  7. Rhetorical article I must say but you may want to try editing your write-ups before you have them published. I'm seeing too many typographical/grammatical errors that could make this article look like it was written by a juvenile.

  8. Hauwa, God bless u for this!!! Cos we have practically lost it in Nollywood! 2-3weeks movies just so they can grab quick pay and go run their respective business, thereby, compeletely and shamelessly destroy the meaning/essence of ART, drama,motion pictures etc! Pls like u asked, where were all theses jokers throwing tantrums before now? Mscheew! This is an international movie, if they can even get a redhead to live and act the role, WE WILL APPRECIATE IT, see the movie at cinemas and buy it!!

  9. Well written. It's an international film.

    We can only hope the film producer is gracious enough to consider an igbo actress.

  10. I love Half of a Yellow Sun and agree with all the points (but the title's 10 and only 7 reasons given)! I can't even imagine any of the Nollywood overrated and overblown 'stars' doing justice to the kind of screenplay this book would produce!

    Thandie Newton as Olanna would be fantastic!

  11. Thandie to play Olana is on point because Olana, as described in the book, is small chested which is similar to that of Thandie. Besides, I hope the movie turns out Fab!

  12. ‎​I think Thandie should play kainene and not olana. Number 7 is on point

  13. God bless you! Number 7 yen gangan ni point! Like you said, we've had this book for years! None of our Nollywood "greats" deemed it fit to turn it into a screenplay now some hypocrites have come up with "demands"! Pschew! Pls Mr. Bandele should ignore and go ahead with the production of what I know would be a hugely successful movie! He was behind "Last King of Scotland"?! WOW! Very impressive!

    PS Isn't Thandie supposed to be playing "Olanna"? Kainene is the twin sister who dated the white guy. What's his name now? Richard I think.

  14. *Standing Ovation*


    *Standing Ovation*

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