Trendy Film Review: ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ Valiantly Tries to Deliver

The New York African Film Festival held it’s annual gala last Friday, and it was no surprise that the film chosen for celebratory purposes was the ambitious and highly anticipated, Half of a Yellow Sun, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose.

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Based on the 2006 novel by Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the story is set against the backdrop of the controversial and historical Biafran war. It has expectedly been met with opposition from Nigerian censors who claim that they are working on guaranteeing a release date once the film has been certified for release. But it’s quite evident that the idea of revisiting a period that erupted due to tribal strife is not necessarily an ideal concept, particularly given the current climate.

There never really is a perfect time to unleash the tendrils of the past, but while director Biyi Bandele waits for his country’s approval, we have to get to the task of dissecting the elements.

Half of a Yellow Sun has been touted as a sweeping epic, at least that was always the intention. It was refreshingly consuming to see images from the war depicted with utmost precision. The desperation and helplessness that encased the victims, coupled with the stark brutality against the Igbo people was a needed reminder of what past generations lived through. It was also a nice touch to see vintage footage of British reporters bravely conveying the unfolding events and the mastermind himself Odumegwu Ojukwu, assuming his role as the ultimate savior.

Half of a Yellow Sun

But obviously this isn’t a documentary; this is a story that centers around two society sisters, the somewhat snobbish and uptight Kainene played by Anika Noni Rose and the earthier Olanna played by Thandie Newton. Both girls have enjoyed an upper-crust upbringing and are well educated enough to demand the best life has to offer. They are also able to garner the affections from equally charismatic men, the accomplished and well respected Odenigbo, played by Ejiofor is a prominent academic who has captivated the heart of Olanna, and English actor Joseph Mwale embraces his role as the sometimes wobbly reporter Richard.

There were periods of nostalgic offerings that would easily elude those of you who are not privy to the instituted customs. But overall, the film only managed to deliver an elaborate history lesson, with the characters serving as glorified prop. Clearly there was a sense of urgency attached to this production due to the sloppy editing and choppy scenes. It was challenging feeling any connection to the characters, mainly due to the stilted dialogue and stony energy.

Half of a Yellow Sun, was obviously conceived out of a dire need to elevate the status of Nollywood in the realm of mainstream acceptance, but unfortunately, it was only able to reveal all the nuances that make the soap-operish quality of Nigeria’s version of Hollywood a hard sell for a global audience.