‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ Brings A Taste Of Nollywood To The States

June 3, 2014  |  

PolicyMic makes an astute point in this article that when most Americans think of movies from Africa, it’s South Africa that they’re really thinking of. A vast continent is excluded from this narrow perception. Notably, the Nigerian film industry — or Nollywood — is left out entirely. The site writes:

The truth is, Nigeria now produces approximately 1,000 films annually — many of them straight to video — almost twice as many as Hollywood (but still lagging behind India). The film industry in Nigeria is now the second-largest employer in the country, generating nearly$600 million annually, a feat even more impressive considering the industry is only about 20 years old.

Nigerian movies are usually made for a fraction of the cost that Hollywood movies are — on average between $25,000 to $70,000 — though the actors can also be paid very little.

All of this is a industry backdrop for Half A Yellow Sun, based on the book of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Starring Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anika Noni Rose, the film takes place in Nigeria during the civil war of the 1960s and the efforts to establish an independent country called Biafra. With its big-name stars and sourced from a bestselling book, this is the kind of movie that could bring a little more Nollywood to the US. And with a budget that PolicyMic prices at $10 million, it brings some of the US price tag to Nigeria.

According to Monterey Media, the entertainment company that’s distributing Half A Yellow Sun in the US, there have been great efforts to get this movie in front of African-American audiences, including a debut at the New York African Film Festival in May, social media outreach and publicity to Nigerian organizations, colleges and universities and black media. The film is playing in cities including New York, San Diego, Chicago and Ft. Lauderdale before heading to digital, DVD and VOD on July 29. Starz subscribers will see the exclusive television premiere.

“We feel it is important that the film reaches a US audience because, as Chimamanda says in her TED talk, … it is a story from Nigeria, about Nigerians, with universal themes – something which has very rarely been seen in mainstream film-making, ” the film’s producer Andrea Calderwood told us via email. “It shows a group of characters who go on a journey from wealthy privilege to the privations of war, and go from their private dramas to dealing with being overtaken by war. Rather than being the more usual ‘white man in Africa’ story told by US and British films, where all the emotions are felt by the white characters with the African characters as supporting players, this is a film with the African characters centre stage.

“Given that so many films and so much media shows African characters only in the context of poverty and suffering, showing the glamorous, confident lives of the characters played by Thandie, Chiwetel and Anika can give a fresh perspective on an African-set story to US audiences,” Calderwood continues.

According to Calderwood, the film has been warmly received by audiences at festivals far and wide (though at home, it did run into an obstacle with the censorship board in the wake of terrorist activities executed by Boko Haram). In the US, we can only hope, audiences and entertainment companies are becoming more receptive to broader and more diverse storytelling. If that’s true, maybe we’ll see more of the many movies that are being made in Nigeria, even in sometimes difficult conditions.

If you’ve seen Half a Yellow Sun, share your thoughts in the comments.

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