Film Business

Do You Agree? Zeba Blay of Shadow and Act Claims ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ “Misses the Mark?” #TIFF13


I read a review on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ earlier today authored by Zeba Blay on Shadow & Act, an African Diaspora film blog, and I was disappointed with the analysis because I felt it failed to really support the premise/headline/thesis of the article.

I love good writing and Shadow & Act is one platform, for many years now, that I go to get such good writing, especially where films about the Black/African diaspora are concerned.

Blay claims ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ “misses the mark” but offers nothing substantial to support that premise. She spends half of her writing discussing pre-production work and how Nigerians were upset an igbo woman was not cast for the lead but does nothing else with the so called film that “misses the mark.”

It felt like someone promised me a healthy grilled chicken sandwich, packed with the basic ingredients and of course the chicken; but instead slapped two pieces of bread with butter and then said, “take, eat this.”

I am disappointed, to say the least.

I am yet to see the movie but my thinking is that if Blay will make such a huge conclusion about the film, especially on an important and credible platform such as Shadow and Act, then she ought to at least put in the work to  lay the foundation/ careful analysis for such a claim.

I have read two key reviews so far, the Variety review included. I did not care for the way the film critic kept taking jabs, in my view, at the director but the detail and analysis was one I respected and showed a writer with a clear command of the subject.

An excerpt of Blay’s  review follows. Check it out, visit the site for the full story and let me know your thoughts.


“Before it even went into production, writer-director Biyi Bandele’s debut feature Half of a Yellow Sun sparked a huge casting debate. Based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the movie would focus on the stories of two sisters during the Nigerian-Biafran war of the late 60s and early 70s. The controversy came from the casting of the biracial Thandie Newton as Olanna, an Igbo woman. In January 2012, a petition was drawn up in protest of the casting, with the main gripe being:

“Igbo people, like any other people range in physical characteristics as well as complexion. However, the majority of Igbos are dark brown in complexion. Igbo people do not look like the bi-racial Thandie Newton. Thandie Newton is an accomplished and talented actress in her own right. However, she is not Igbo, she is not Nigerian, and she does not physically resemble Igbo women in the slightest.”

Of course, while debate about the representation of darker skinned women and Africans went on for a few weeks, the petition gained no real traction, shooting on the film was completed, and this year the film had its world premiere at TIFF. Was the petition well-founded? Did Thandie as lead work, or was her very presence in the film a slap in the face to the many Nigerian and Igbo actresses who could have potentially played the role (Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji, for instance, was suggested)? It’s difficult to answer these questions because, ultimately, in spite of the issues of colorism that may or may not taint her presence in the film, Newton (excusing her bad Nigerian accent) is one of the best things about the movie.

As Olanna, Newton is wholly likable, the character with which we most identify and sympathize with. She forms a stark and fascinating contrast to Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, Olanna’s status-seeking twin who disapproves of her sisters relationship with the radically minded intellectual Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, turning in yet another superb performance this year). It’s this relationship between the sisters, and this tension, that serves as a sort of metaphor for the film’s historical backdrop. . .”

Shadow and Act has the full story.

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  1. You cant please everyone, Havent seen the movie yet. But I know thandie Newton is a pretty good actress and im sure she played that role perfectly. Chiwetels igbo accent came out finally, lol. Hes been hiding it for the longest time.

  2. Ken,

    I agree. The trailer looks good. I think it is okay for her to disagree with the film. My issue is that the platform she is contributing to is well known and given the amount of investment in the film, it would be helpful if she took time to explain why the film missed the mark because it potentially could affect the consumption of the film by the public; resulting in the ability to recoup investments for the investors.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Majority of igbos are dark in complexion?? I seriously doubt that. Tells me she doesn't know a lot about igbos or our culture so i wouldn't pay attention to her review, but I would say this is the first movie ive come across that has a biafra theme. Its part of our history as igbos, And how peoples lives were affected by the war is still a mystery to a lot of us born after the war. So anything that has to do with it i would go to see even if its out of curiosity.

  4. Well if there’s anything I’ve learnt over the years, it is NEVER PAY MIND TO FILM CRITICS!
    If you watch a trailer and you like it, GO GET THE MOVIE.
    I swear, if only there was a way to sue RottenTomatoes for all those years of misinformation.

    Having said that, Ibo or not, the major question is if Thandie as Olanna was able to win the empathy of the viewers. I haven’t seen the film yet but I’ll wager she achieved that and more…and Chiwetel?? Nna mehn I’d like to hear his Ibo accent….lol. He’s a good actor tho’…

  5. It is either Blay did not read the book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ or my memory has failed me. I read the book about 6 years ago while I was in Lagos. With the description that Chamamanda gave about Olanna, someone like Thandie Newton comes to mind easily. I could remember that in the book while Olanna was on board a flight (I think)back to Enugu from northern part of Nigeria, a certain Housa man had mistaken her for a Fulani girl (Fulani girls are not dark skined) though many (not majority) Igbo’s are dark skinned, it is common to see among the rich class young girls who are light skinned because of less contact with direct sunlight. Genevieve Nnaji is my best Nollywood actress thus ordinarily, I would have loved her to play that role as Olanna but the truth remains that she does not fit the description. She looks like a normal Igbo girl but Olanna character was described in the book to be like a Fulani lady.

    Blay should have also observed the fact that Ibo children burn outside Ibo land commonly adept to foreign accent or culture. Olanna was neither born or bred up in Ibo land she grew up outside Ibo land among the high class and schooled in London for goodness sake.

    Just like you Uduak, I have not seen the movie but, at list, I have read the book. Funny enough, Blay have seen the movie (I suppose) but I bet she has not read that book. At list prior to her review.

  6. I actually enjoy the few writings I have seen from Blay, maybe that is why I expected more. I too, like you, read the book aeons ago.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.


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