Thursday, October 22, 2015

Half of a Yellow Sun [Nigeria, 2013]

Nine Things About the Film "Half of a Yellow Sun"

1. This movie is basically two short films with the same characters. The first half is a melodramatic romance. The second half is a historical war drama.

2. It's about two upper class, educated Nigerian sisters in the early 1960's and how they shock their traditional parents by shacking up with men that won't help their careers. These romantic choices help determine the roles they play in the Nigerian Civil War at the end of the 1960's.

3. The plot of the first hour is kind of boring as a story, but it's interesting as a character study. The older sister, Olanna, lives with a professor named Odenigbo that likes to imagine himself as a revolutionary. The younger sister, Kainene, runs the family business while sleeping with an English writer named Richard. There is drama, and cheating, and scandal, in both families.

4. While the first hour is a soap opera, it's also helpful in setting up the second hour. The opening scene of the movie shows Nigeria gaining independence from Britain in 1960, which sets lots of other things in motion. In between the family drama, you learn more about how Nigeria works - the geography, the class system, the prejudice and tribal politics.

5. Almost exactly halfway through the movie, the ethnic, economic, and cultural conflicts brewing in the background suddenly become the main story. Odenigbo's tribe, the Igbo people, don't trust the northern government. They carve out a little piece of the country and attempt to secede, declaring themselves the country of Biafra, independent of Nigeria. Everything comes unglued (in real life, over a million people died in this war that lasted about 30 months).

6. The movie attempts to explore topics such as nationalism, tribalism, identity, and what white Westerners are doing in their country. But since half the movie is spent on cheating spouses and relationship politics, there isn't much time for these more complicated ideas.

7. Thandie Newton is a really good actress that has never landed the big role she deserves (I still remember her from Beloved). She does well in this movie, and I was glad to see her again. Chiwetel Ejiofor is another great actor, and he plays Odenigbo with a good mixture of intelligence, stupidity and dumb loyalty (the same year this movie was made, Ejiofor also starred in 12 Years a Slave).

8. The movie was filmed in Nigeria, which brings an authentic feel to the events portrayed. But it was strangely shot - it's beautiful, but sometimes looks like a stage play.

9. This isn't a great film, but it's a good one. It's entertaining, educational, and is an example of Africans telling their own history. This two-hour movie taught me more about the world's largest continent than I ever learned in school.