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50th NAACP Image Awards

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Ever since Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o acquired the rights to author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s award-winning novel Americanah, I was hopeful that whenever she decided to do something with it, she would have a Nigerian actress play the paramount role of Ifemelu. So when it was confirmed this week that the adaptation of the novel was getting a straight-to-series order on HBO Max with Danai Gurira writing the pilot and being showrunner to Nyong’o as the star, I was a tad disappointed. It’s not to say that Lupita can’t do Ifemelu justice in the role, because she’s certainly proved her acting prowess, but there are so many Nigerian actresses working nowadays, and quite talented at that, who could have had the opportunity to shine or even break through into the mainstream with such a role. And if there is any avenue that doesn’t require a well-known name to have success, it’s television. The rise of A-list actors as stars of shows and limited series is a newer practice.

Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what Lupita and Danai will do with the story of a Nigerian woman grappling with love and her Black identity in America. There are also plenty of other roles that Nigerian actors and actresses can fill on the series, so not all hope is lost. Still, a gal can dream. So with that being said, here is a list of Nigerian actresses, a few of the Igbo ethnic group like the central character, who could have done great things as Ifemelu.

50th NAACP Image Awards - Arrivals

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Cynthia Erivo

The 32-year-old British actress, who is Igbo, who has already stood out on Broadway as Celie in The Color Purple and in films like Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, is set to have her first leading role in the upcoming historical drama Harriet. She’s not always Black Twitter’s favorite, but Cynthia is an incredible talent.

Freeform Summit 2018 at NeueHouse

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Pepi Sonuga

Pepi, who is Igbo and Yoruba and was born and raised in Nigeria, was a star on the Freeform series Famous in Love. The 26-year-old actress can hold her own on-screen and also looks youthful enough to have played both the secondary school-aged Ifemelu and the adult version.

American Son Opening Night - Arrivals.

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Uzo Aduba

The 38-year-old former Orange Is the New Black star deserved all the accolades for her portrayal of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the hit Netflix series. And while new opportunities have come her way (including the limited series Mrs. America where she plays Shirley Chisolm), the Igbo actress, who actually speaks the language, could have been a great fit for Ifemelu.

People's "Ones to Watch" Event Presented By Maybelline New York - Red Carpet

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Tracy Ifeachor

The 34-year-old British actress, who is Igbo, has stood out on on a multitude of series, including Quantico, Strike Back, Dr. Who and Legends of Tomorrow. She could have certainly used the opportunity to make a name for herself in the mainstream as a leading actress playing the protagonist in Americanah.

2016 Toronto International Film Festival - "The Wedding Party" Premiere

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Zainab Balogun

The 29-year-old Nigerian actress, who is of the Egba people, a subgroup of the Yoruba, stood out to me in the film The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (which you can find on Amazon Prime). It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

She is charming in the role, but has also shown her range in dramas like Sylvia. Zainab is another talent that could have used the opportunity to play Ifemelu.

2018 Toronto International Film Festival - "Lionheart" Premiere

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Genevieve Nnaji

The forever youthful and well-known Nigerian actress, who is Igbo, is one of the greats of Nollywood. With more than 80 Nollywood movies under her belt, including Netflix’s Lionheart, the 40-year-old has proven her talent. She had a small role in the adaptation of Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun (which had Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose as stars), and would have done great things in the lead of this TV adaptation.

50th NAACP Image Awards - Arrivals

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Yvonne Orji

While the 35-year-old Igbo actress is hilarious on Insecure, the role does offer Yvonne the chance to tap into her serious side from time to time, and when she does, she’s quite believable. The chance to play Ifemelu could have offered the stand-up comedian the opportunity to flex her true acting chops.

Premiere Of HBO's "True Detective" Season 3

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Deborah Ayorinde

You’ll probably remember the British actress’ face from Girls Trip (she was the other woman to Mike Colter’s character). Still, the 32-year-old broke through on Luke Cage, was most recently on HBO’s True Detective, and will appear with Cynthia Erivo in Harriet, so drama is her strong suit. Could she have been a great Ifemelu? We’ll never know.

2018 LA Film Festival - Screening Of "Solace"

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Hope Olaide Wilson

Another talented British actress, Hope Olaide Wilson stood out big time as the strong-willed niece of Taraji P. Henson’s character in I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Though she played a teenager, the Yoruba actress is now 34 and has been acting consistently working since her breakout role in Tyler Perry’s hit film. She just wrapped Wonderland with Mark Wahlberg, due out this year.

RBC Hosted "Sweetness in the Belly" Cocktail Party At RBC House Toronto Film Festival 2019

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Wunmi Mosaku

A Bafta-winning British actress born in Nigeria, Oluwunmi is known for stealing scenes in limited series, including Moses Jones and Damilola, Our Loved Boy, for which she won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was recently in the latest season of Luther and could have done great things as Ifemelu.

2018 GEANCO Foundation Hollywood Gala

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Adesua Etomi

The thirtysomething actress is another familiar face from Nollywood, and in those films, has shown off some serious range. Of the Esan and Yoruba groups, Adesua has already made waves for her fashion, appearing in Vogue earlier this year, and just needs the chance to break out for her acting abilities next.

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