During my time in Stone Town, Zanzibar, this past summer, I attended many of the film screenings at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF). My favorite–and one of the featured films of the festival–was Biyi Bandele’s Half of a Yellow Sun, the film based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel about the Nigerian civil war.
Half of a Yellow Sun follows two sisters and their families, as they grew and diminished throughout the film. The sisters are Igbo, and are presented at first as very wealthy, powerful young leaders in Lagos. As the conflict breaks out, the film follows both separately, as one sister ultimately profits from the humanitarian aid of the war, while the other represents the majority of Igbo people in this conflict–struggling to stay alive. The ironic ending to both of their stories leaves the viewer in a heartbroken quandary, an effect that underlines the ending of the war itself.
Overall, the film was one of the best I have ever seen; the cinematography was beautifully completed, the script was poignant, and the actors enacted the many stages of the war as they constantly migrated from one village to the next, avoiding direct fighting. Narratives of love, relationships, hate, heartbreak, and ultimate hopelessness were strewn throughout, to remind the reader of the timeless aspects of life that exist in both war and peacetime.
That being said, I did wish more than one political perspective of the Nigerian civil war could have been portrayed, even if indirectly. The only time the viewer was exposed to the Hausa was when huge screaming men were raiding villages and hacking people to death. While this was a reality during this conflict, there were other narratives that could have been introduced to balance the weight of the dispute. The film was also very long in places, especially during romantic crisis between the main characters.
Regardless of these adjustments, watching Half of a Yellow Sun at ZIFF was one of the most impactful experiences I have ever had. Since it was the African Premier of the movie, there were many Nigerian academics, students, and everyday citizens living in Zanzibar whose first or second hand experiences in this civil war were present in the reflective and tearful reactions of the audience.
Whether for entertainment, or to learn more about Nigerian history, I encourage everyone to view Half of a Yellow Sun at some point. While it may be banned in the very place it focuses on, it is an excellent film that stays with its viewers long after the credits have rolled.