Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in Nigerian 'Nollywood' film

theGRIO REPORT - Nigeria’s booming film industry has taken a step is the right direction with the forthcoming U.S. release of Half of a Yellow Sun...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Nigeria’s booming film industry has taken a step in the right direction with the forthcoming U.S. release of Half of a Yellow Sun.

The blockbuster movie stars Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, alongside Hollywood star Thandie Newton, as well as other reputable actors.

The film is directed by celebrated playwright-turned-filmmaker, Biyi Bandele. It is based on a bestselling novel of the same name by acclaimed author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“I read the book,” says Nigerian-born British director. “I loved it and fell in love with the characters.”

He says he wanted to direct a film adaptation because “I had never encountered African characters like Kainene [singer and actress Anika Noni Rose] and Olanna [Newton] on the big screen before.”

With a budget in the region of $10 million, Yellow Sun is one of the more expensive films to come out of the Nigeria.

“There was some talk of shooting in South Africa, but I couldn’t see it,” says Bandele. “I insisted we shot in Nigeria.”

The movie was shot across five weeks in Cross River State in southeastern Nigeria. Bandele cites malaria and typhoid as one of the major challenges, with several cast and crew falling ill, including British-Zimabawean actress Newton.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a far cry from typical Nollywood movies, which are generally produced on a shoestring budget, with production over a few days.

“Nollywood is the second biggest film industry in the world. But is still quite away from world class production values.”

Still, Half of a Yellow Sun highlights a relatively new trend in Nollywood: well-respected U.S. actors teaming up with Nigerian and African filmmakers.  The Nollywood industry is starting to be viewed as a viable alternative to Hollywood for African-American actors to purse their craft.

Storyteller Bandele describes his film as a “bunch of love stories against the backdrop of civil war.”

Written and directed by Bandele, it is a sweeping drama that follows twin sisters Olanna and Kainene as they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war. Olanna falls for a revolutionary professor [Ejiofor], while Kainene runs the family business and romances a white writer [Joseph Mawle] from England.

In fact, the Biafran civil war, which divided the country between 1967-1970, was a dark chapter in the history of the most populous African nation, when political and ethic divisions nearly tore the country apart.

Bandele says Nigeria is still struggling — and even more divided — because it has not dealt with its bloody past. “Nigeria is more divided now that it was after the civil war finished in 1970 because we haven’t dealt with the root causes of the war.”

In an unexpected twist, the film board in Nigeria has refused to issue Half of a Yellow Sun public viewing certification, which has stalled the screening process.

The softly spoken Bandele is clearly disappointed. Though Bandele says he has not been given a valid explanation, he suspects the decision was based on unfounded concerns that Yellow Sun could stoke up ethnic and tribal divisions.

“It was meant to open in all the cinemas,” says Bandele. “Right now, the movie is effectively banned.”

The film’s release comes at a time of increased sectional and ethnic tensions in Nigeria, with international outcry over extremist Islamic group, Boko Haram, kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls.

Half of a Yellow Sun is set to open in limited release in U.S. theaters this Friday, May 16.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti