On August 1st, Half of a Yellow Sun finally screened for the public in cinemas across Nigeria. However, this screening came almost three months after its premiere in the United States. The Nigerian National Film and Video Censors Board (NFCB) had banned the movie for fears that it would “incite violence.”
An adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel with the same name, the movie is set in late 1960s Nigeria, during the period of the Biafran civil war. It features BAFTA award-winning actor and actress, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, as well as legendary Nigerian actor and actress, Zack Orji and Onyeka Onwenu. The cast weaves a story of love and loss in the era of Nigeria’s biggest civil war since independence; a war in which more than one million lives were lost.
The NFCB had banned the movie due to the "security challenges" Nigeria faced at the time. Presently, Nigeria is dealing with a crisis concentrated in the North, where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced more than 300,000. Now perhaps more than ever, there is a Northern-Southern dichotomy. This is only a minor section in a list of problems that caused the Biafran War.
The author, Adichie recognizes the fears behind the ban. In a New Yorker article titled "Hiding From Our Past," she said, “in a political culture averse to openness, this might seem a particularly appropriate time for censorship.” However, she does not believe in closing off discourse on the issue, "Many of Nigeria’s present problems are, arguably consequences of an ahistorical culture...The past is present, and we are better off acknowledging it and, hopefully, learning from it.” "The censors’ action is more disappointing than surprising," added Adichie, "because it is part of a larger Nigerian political culture that is steeped in denial, in looking away.”
The movie director, Biyi Bandele, produced the movie as a step towards promoting discourse on this dark period in Nigeria’s history. Despite being born during the short period of the war with no personal recollections of it, his life was touched by the loss of a brother who would never return home. In an interview with Thomas Keneally for Leap Frog Films, Bandele describes how his mother talked about his brother who joined the army and was killed in action. He believes that Nigeria still has the problems that caused the war and that the divisions that existed then still exist now.
Nigeria’s educational curriculum does not teach the Biafran war; a war that is arguably the most important conflict in Nigeria's history as an independent country. It was such a humanitarian disaster that it inspired Bernard Kouchner to found Medecin Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).
In the New Yorker piece, Adichie said, "Had the censorship board not politicized the film by delaying its release, I suspect that few people would have objected to it at all."
It has now been three days since the movie first screened. We turn to Twitter to see what the viewers responses were and if there is any hint of violence brewing.
Twitter Responses to #HOAYS (Half of a Yellow Sun)
Some viewers expressed the view that the censorship was unnecessary:
I've read the book, and if u have to, u'll knw some scenes were censored......what's the point, show Nigerians, let them Know #HOAYS— Aleksandr Brown (@i_am_alexbrown) August 1, 2014
5. #HOAYS Why pull punches? Nothing wrong in telling us that victims of the brutal airport murders ã Igbos, perpetrators ãnorthern soldiers.— Bolaji Olatunde (@BOLMOJOLA) August 2, 2014
But it's sad though that large parts of the movie was allegedly chopped of "to preserve our unity." Really stupid if that's true #HOAYS 2/2— Lotanna 'Femi O. (@TheLotanna) August 2, 2014
Another viewer, in the minority, expressed seccesionist sentiments:
#HOAYS At the climax of the film, an Igbo lady to my left said, "We don't belong to this country." Mr. Censor, the film didn't inspire that.— Bolaji Olatunde (@BOLMOJOLA) August 4, 2014
For one viewer, the movie inspired pride about his tribal origins, and a recognition of how far they had come:
The movie definitely shone a light on the acting of the Nigerian crew, particularly veteran Onyeka Onwenu:
4. #HOAYS Onyeka Onwenu nearly acted Thandie Newton off the screen, outshone her sometimes. What an actress, Ms. Onwenu. Both were great!— Bolaji Olatunde (@BOLMOJOLA) August 2, 2014
Onyeka Onwenu is spectacular. Great performance in #HOAYS she outperformed Thandie Newton. There are also very good moments in the film— The Drone Guy (@jamesamuta) August 1, 2014
In summary, Nigerians were excited to see the movie and showed up in full force, prompting a very Nigerian act: more space had to be made for newcomers
#HOAYS really sold out today, My room was so full, chairs had to be brought in— Aleksandr Brown (@i_am_alexbrown) August 1, 2014
There is much to be learned from history. Movies like Half of a Yellow Sun, which bare that history and enlighten the younger generations on the origins of modern conflicts should be encouraged, if only for the sake of progress.
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