THROUGH THE FLAWED ETHNIC EYES OF SOME SENTIMENTAL NEEDLES: THOUGHTS ON OFILI’S REVIEW OF BANDELE’S HALF OF A YELLOW SUN MOVIE By Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Reading Chike Ofili’s ‘Adapting Half of a Yellow Sun against Igbo’ (it appears online as ‘Adapting Half of a Yellow Sun Film against Igbo misfortune’)(Saturday Sun Newspaper, 7th June 2014 Page 40), one begins to wonder at the sentiments that run through the hearts of most of us – writers specifically now. Going through the piece, you find the reviewer trying to build a case of Yoruba/Igbo sentiment in such an unbalanced and subjective argument that would leave anyone worried.
To underscore the sentiments, you see unabashed praises heaped to the heavens poured on every Igbo person the reviewer mentions – there’s Stephannie [sic] (Okereke) Idahosa “a well-known Igbo actress” whose “Through the Glass, [sic] opened the floodgate for female filmmakers…and redefined a new Nollywood…” He continues that “This new trend was made far more popular another Igbo lady…Chineze Anyaene’s school project, Ije. This Igbo title for Journey came with a much stronger force of multiple media approach to its publicity.” You can raise some more questions on the continuous emphasis on Igbo here and some explanations that aren’t necessary but well…
In the torrents of his sentiments and spite, a common name that spits at anyone who has a tiny idea of the Nigerian film industry (that the reviewer shows a good knowledge of in his review, so no excuses), Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is written wrongly as Omotola Ekhide [Haba!]. If we are to follow the trend of the argument of the piece, you would ask why Mr. Ofili didn’t make a mistake on the name of the Igbo actress Genevive Nnaji [who coincidentally acted in the movie too]. Oh! Yes, sorry, that name was meant to be Genevieve, right? And wait, a fellow Igbo brother, Chiwetel Ejiofor (written in the article as Ejiorfo Chiwetel), apart from having his name spelt wrong is said to have won the “2014 Best Actor award in the UK’s coveted BAFTA as the lead actor in The Last King of Scotland” [Bold mine, the rest word for word from article]. Well, let’s just forget that Chiwetel got the award for 12 Years a Slave. Ehem, so, what were we saying again? Yes, the sentiments of a review.
In all, you begin to wonder what the reviewer has more problems with – a Yoruba directing an ‘Igbo’ novel brought to screen or stage (he has an issue with the adaptation of Things fall apart by a certain Yoruba man too) or with Biyi Bandele, who wrote the script for and directed the movie adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun and yes, the stage adaptation of Things Fall Apart. There’s only one place where the reviewer tries to show balance to apportioning blame to the novel too but that is even done stylishly.
The reviewer subjects Bandele’s ‘level of script fidelity…to history’. You begin to wonder if the reviewer has fidelity to proper spellings, names of people, history or objective judgement. Hee hee hee. But let’s follow the script of that review and talk it properly. The reviewer questions why Ojukwu is shown, ridiculed and all without a trace of General Yakubu Gowon being shown in the movie or as he put it, “If anything, there is a tinge of black humour in the application of irony to ridicule the Biafran leader, General Odumegwu Ojukwu, of in his choice of actualities [sic] from the archives to ensnare him with the words of his mouth when his expressions of conquest of the Federal side turned out a dramatic irony.” So, nothing like this was shown in the novel? There was no irony in the novel where Odenigbo and co begin to wonder at the futility of the war much later? Where Olanna has to wonder if it was worth it and how Ojukwu hadn’t truly done them right? Did my brother reviewer not read that book properly? Anyway, the reviewer continues that: “The mischievous ridicule [of Ojukwu] is taken further by the constant use of footages to playback Ojukwu’s role in the war and there is a deliberate stone silence on the role of Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria”. Haba! Maybe a sharp re-reading of the text help our critic to look beyond Bandele’s ‘episodic selection’ for the movie script. Ojukwu is shown in the book severally and/or references made to him in many instances while Gowon is not much of a presence anywhere. The seat of power, Lagos, is even neglected when the story of the novel shifts to the war. Now, the narration of Chimamanda Adichie, who wrote this novel, neglected Gowon and Lagos for her artistic purposes which, I believe, was to properly zoom in on the effects of the war on the Igbo side through the eyes of some key characters who lived through the war. Maybe it was because the author thought there was really nothing to write about the other soldiers or their experience. It might be that each other sets out to paint a picture and leaves out what shades doesn’t fit the collage. You might say that makes the story a single story of some sorts but that is a debate for some other essay. Whatever reason she did that, it then does not call for anyone to expect the script adapter to invent some parts which never existed to come into his script.

A shot from the movie

It is hard enough putting the book together into script, talk less of inventing far more things. Who knows, perhaps if he had invented Gowon to play more prominently, our reviewer would have said that he (the script writer) was being sentimental by showing too much of Gowon!
Where is all this leading to? Now, I am not rejecting the notion that there might be holes in Bandele’s scripting and/or direction of the movie, Half of a Yellow Sun (which artistic work doesn’t have its imperfection?). What I am concerned about is that someone decides to criticize the movie for its flaws and does not even concentrate on doing it objectively (if one can be said to do that purely) but follows the path of ethnicism for his criticism. He emphasizes this when he states that “It would seem that since he [the director, Bandele] has no emotional stake in that tragic history, and perhaps never allows himself some emotional experiencing of it from the book either, it is no surprise that he could neither present it with evocation nor to any cathartic effects.” To justify his ethnic sentiments, the reviewer continues at a different area of his review that “It just reminded me of my friend, Prince, a Nollywood man and a Yoruba, who in a discussion with me at the third edition of AMAA in Bayelsa State, wondered why an Igbo should want to do an epic film on Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, knowing the nature of Igbo-Yoruba relations. The same seems to go for Biyi. It says so much about the sneaky, if not poisonous politics of the writer-director without feelings; without empathy which he, in turn failed to communicate same to the audience that could not feel the film, as he could not make them to. He could give them what he never had” [emphasis mine]. So, is it the same so-called Igbo-Yoruba relations that forces our critic to come out this vengeful or something? He writes much on other reasons why an Igbo might have done better but in the end decides to just give hard knocks overall on Bandele’s flawed directing [which might simply be because he is Yoruba, I think, to follow the argument of the critic. After all, it is appointed for movies that are not directed by people whom the movie is focused on to have horrible movies]. He says “Another disappointing representation of the truth and worth of the novel in this film adaptation is the largely lifeless and un-memorable key characters we meet in the film that are totally not the case in the novel… Generally however, the characters in the film barely speak to our inner self and rarely connects [sic] with the audience to lead to a mutual and surreal identification with them as reading the novel does – which the film should have bettered”… Maybe, we should add to that end following Ofili’s trend that “the film should have bettered the novel but was poor simply because a Yoruba man was made to write the script and direct.”
To totally negate the movie that a few others, by the way, have hailed for different reason, on the grounds of Igbo/Yoruba malice is really not scholarly enough. [Meanwhile, let us also forget that Chimamanda who wrote the book was really impressed with the work saying “it’s a very beautiful film, it’s very well done, I think the acting is really very good…”]. But come to think of it o, wasn’t there one good thing in the movie that our reviewer noticed? Or was the Yoruba man so bad that he just flopped the entire project so as to make the Igbo lead actor, Chiwetel, to act worse than the least Nollywood star? Have we never heard of people who wrote stories of other places that weren’t theirs such that it made you really impressed? Can we forget the histories of several people that would have been silent if it hadn’t been for others from out who documented it? Haven’t most scholars agreed that the most informed and objective reports of the Nigerian Civil [Biafran] War, were written by ‘outsiders’? Same thing goes for directing, haven’t we heard of directors of a different place or clime that worked on material that originally wasn’t theirs and left them marvelling?
Screening a movie against set prejudices especially stemming from our national destroyer – ethnicism, which by the way has caused us far more harm than good creates a question on the rationality or objectivity of a writer. Furthermore, it begs the question of when we would start to think above our clans and hamlets. Would this same reviewer have written this review in this way if perhaps if he was of a tribe that wasn’t Igbo? Okay, maybe he would say he wrote it because he feels the pinches of the war as an Igbo man more. But now again, would he have written it in the same way if perhaps a Mr. Obinna Nnamdi [to use a combination of the first Igbo names that come to mind] or one of his amazing Igbo Nollywood ladies had directed it?
The several errors in the review also suggests a blind rage that hastened a hand to pour out flawed inked thoughts to condemn what was done on ‘sentiment’ [how ironic!]. Over here, one also questions the Editor of the literary column of The Sun, for allowing that pass.
We have a role to society as writers to recreate life and in many instances reconstruct what ills we can. Noting that the printed word cannot be retracted, it also calls for us to more thorough in our investigations, presentations and conclusions before going to press – whether in papers or books. A word said might be forgotten or disputed but words in print in thousands of copies everywhere, how does one do anything about it? We ought to take this responsibility more seriously when we get to that level where we have packed experience and several others look up to us. Isn’t it said that with greater power, comes greater responsibility? So much responsibility lies in our ink which should force us to be more purposed to the truth than deliberate or mistaken lies. Perhaps we should also borrow a line from our dear Chimamanda Adichie and avoid the pitfalls of the danger of sentiments or that sad sad single story.

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