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Film Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

       Two views of the movie from our writers Samira Sawlani and Leslie Pitt

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To make a film based on a book is often a poisoned chalice for filmmakers. Not only do they face the usual challenge of creating a piece of entertainment which will please an audience, but they have the added pressure of doing justice to the story upon which it is based and managing the expectations of its readers. So spare a thought for playwright, novelist, screenplay writer and now film director Biyi Bandele who took on the mammoth task of bringing to the big screen ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the award winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The book stands as powerful literary piece which, through the eyes of four characters, tells the heart-wrenching story of the rarely discussed Nigerian civil war which took place between 1967 and 1970.
Before filming began, there was much controversy over bi-racial actress Thandie Newton being chosen to play the leading role of Olanna, a Nigerian woman hailing from the Igbo tribe. To give credit where it is due, Newton manages to delivers some powerful scenes. However, the question of whether a Nigerian actress such as Genevieve Nnaji (who has a small guest role in the film) should have been cast as Olanna is an issue worthy of discussion.

The film begins with excellent real life footage of the Queen visiting Nigeria, indeed the continuous usage of historical documentation as the plot develops gives the film context and an added authenticity.

The opening scenes show Olanna (Newton) and non-identical twin sister Kainene (played by the astounding Anika Noni Rose) as girls from a wealthy Lagos family dressed in the latest fashions and speaking in posh accents at Nigerian Independence Day celebrations.

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Unlike in the book, where the sisters are a major part of a greater plot filled with a complexity of characters, the film is built around the relationship between the siblings and how it reflects the turmoil facing a country as it descends into war.

Slowly we see the introduction of other characters such as Olanna’s lover Odenigbo, the academic armchair revolutionary played by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor, Richard, the white English writer who falls in love with Kainene, and Ugwu (played by John Boyega), Odenigbo’s observant yet silent houseboy, a character so central in the book, yet underused in the film.
Much focus is put upon Olanna’s relationship with Odenigbo, its many upheavals ranging from infidelity to disapproval from his mother (a show stealing performance by Onyeka Onwenu) who describes Olanna as a ‘witch’.  We see Olanna leaving behind her lavish Lagos lifestyle to join her lover in Nsukka and ultimately it is this decision which sees her living in Biafra and then being plunged into relative poverty, and her betrayal of Kainene which ultimately tears apart the relationship between the sisters. In the background we see the coming of war, subtle references to strikes and tribal tensions take place in the dialogue between characters, while simultaneously we are drawn into the everyday realities which they face.
By keeping focus on Olanna and Kainene, the director misses out on the opportunity to have created a masterpiece which would have done justice to the reality of post-colonial Nigeria and the Biafra war. But for all its weaknesses, there are many aspects of the film which deserve praise and are enough reason to go see it.

BombsBlow_HOAYSForemost is the chilling and raw depiction of the war, certain scenes of violence and chaos leave the viewer in shock at just how easily forgotten the conflict was despite its horrific impact. Some of the more emotionally ridden scenes have an atmosphere which is palpable.

The parts of the film which were filmed on location in Nigeria do full justice to the lush greenery and beauty of a country which is all too often associated with more negative matters, indeed one cannot help but relish in the aesthetics of some of the scenery.
The attention to detail and authenticity in terms of decor, furniture, costumes and the atmosphere in every scene is superb. The clothing worn by the female characters not only ooze accuracy in terms of history and fashion, but are likely to impress any follower of fashion.  Similarly the music transports one back to the era of Miriam Makeba and Eartha Kitt and draws in the viewer as every song or piece of music perfectly complements the scene it accompanies.

It is likely that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s success in 12 Years A Slave will draw in the crowds and although his fans will not be disappointed, the highlights really are the scene stealing performances by Anika Noni Rose, Onyeka Onwenu and John Boyega, all of whom are sadly not used enough.
Overall Half of a Yellow Sun delivers a few scenes of poignancy and raw emotion which would leave any viewer speechless.

By Samira Sawlani

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Half a Yellow Sun is an interesting yet flawed piece that employs its high quality cast to help bypass its flustering narrative. Through one can’t fault the films ambition; as an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed novel, the film’s structure and screenplay doesn’t measure up to the detail that is clearly set in the book.

Set against the Nigerian-Biafran civil war of the sixties; the film tells the tale of two well educated, politically opposed sisters whose personal decisions to stay in Africa, not only shock their family but set in motion a series of events and conflicts that dramatically shape their lives.

It’s clear from the very beginning that Half a Yellow Sun has a vast scope. The film tries to encompass three years of war and a variety of family dynamics as well as trying to showcase Nigeria and its varied cultural and political landscapes. We delve head-first into traditional versus modern family tensions, household, gender and wider politics and perspective on class with little time to breathe. However the screenplay is far too light to juggle the pins and first-time director Biyi Bandele doesn’t have enough of an assured grip with everything as characters, timelines and viewpoints skip and jump with only a small amount of rhythm. Certain characters feel more important than they appear, while others seem to disappear for far too long. There’s a sense that much of the film has been pared down to not only include as much as possible, but to keep an element of structure. Yet the film’s abruptly anti-climatic final third sits awkwardly with the viewer as the credits roll. There simply should be more to it.

half-of-a-yellow-sun-movieHalf a Yellow Sun’s strongest points land with the films well picked cast. Already on a roll with an Academy Awards nomination for 12 Years a Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a weighted amount of complexity to the ‘revolutionary left wing professor’ Odenigbo, while Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, Princess and the Frog) provides strong opposition as capitalist sister Kainene. John Boyega shows his range in his slightly neglected role of Ugwu, and Thandie Newton, takes all of the plaudits in one of her strongest performances to date. In a display of intelligence and quiet dignity, Newton expresses the type of measured performance that makes you stand up and take notice of just how long the actress has been missing from Hollywood’s narrow gaze.

Half a Yellow Sun firmly places Nigeria in the forefront and does well to help demystify a country which has been clouded by reductive email scam memes and ungainly impressions by people who believe they’re Felix Dexter. There’s a clear desire to highlight the richness of a country with such a complicated history, while the melodramatic nature of the scenes will perhaps find an audience. Unfortunately Half a Yellow Sun does not weigh up to the sum of its parts and as opposed to a landmark piece, it may only weigh up as a footnote.

 by Leslie Pitt

 for a full list of the cast, click here

Half of a Yellow Sun – Cast List

 

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IN CINEMAS FROM 11 APRIL 2014
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 CAST OF ‘HALF OF A YELLOW SUN’

 

Thandie-Newton

THANDIE NEWTON – plays Olanna
Thandie Newton made her film debut alongside Nicole Kidman in 1991’s FLIRTING. In 1994 Neil Jordan cast her as Brad Pitt’s maid in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES also starring Tom Cruise. Newton gained international recognition in the Merchant Ivory production of JEFFERSON IN PARIS in which she played Jefferson’s slave, co-starring with Nick Nolte and Gwyneth Paltrow. In 1997 GRIDLOCK’D followed, in which Newton starred alongside Tupac Shakur and Tim Roth, and then Jonathan Demme’s BELOVED in 1998, also with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. In the same year, she was seen in Bernardo Bertolucci’s BESIEGED with David Thewlis, and in 2000, she was the female lead in John Woo’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II alongside Tom Cruise.

She also starred in IT WAS AN ACCIDENT that year, appearing for the first time with Chiwetel Ejiofor. Jonathan Demme cast her again in THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (2004), alongside Stephen Dillane and Mark Wahlberg. That same year, she joined Vin Diesel and Judi Dench in sci-fi adventure, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and took on the role in CRASH for which she won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Newton played a wealthy woman who becomes the target of Matt Dillon’s racist policeman in Paul Haggis’ film which went on to win three Academy Awards. In 2006, Newton starred as Will Smith’s wife in THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and the following year she played the jilted lover that Simon Pegg must win back in David Schwimmer’s RUN FATBOY RUN. ROCKNROLLA, Guy Ritchie’s 2008 London thriller, saw her playing opposite Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson. Two US presidential roles followed, as Newton portrayed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in W. (2008), Oliver Stone’s film biography of George W. Bush.

 

 

Chiwetel Ejiofor


CHIWETEL EJIOFOR – plays Odenigbo

Ejiofor’s film career dates back to 1996, when Stephen Spielberg cast him in the critically acclaimed AMISTAD, alongside Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins. He returned to the big screen in Stephen Frears’ 2001 thriller DIRTY PRETTY THINGS for which he won Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards and the Evening Standard Film Awards. In 2003, he co-starred in three films: Richard Curtis’ LOVE ACTUALLY,Woody Allen’s MELINDA AND MELINDA and SLOW BURN, with Ray Liotta. 2008 saw Ejiofor star in Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER, opposite Don Cheadle in TALK TO ME, and in David Mamet’s REDBELT.

Ejiofor’s other film credits include KINKY BOOTS (2005), the urban drama FOUR BROTHERS (2005) alongside Mark Whalberg, Spike Lee’s heist film INSIDE MAN alongside Clive Owen, Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington, and the Oscar nominated CHILDREN OF MEN, once again alongside Clive Owen, both 2006. In 2009, he earned a Golden Globe nomination, his second, for ENDGAME with William Hurt, and co-starred in Roland Emmerich’s action feature 2012 opposite John Cusack, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton.

The following year he co-starred in SALT, with Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber.  in 2014 he won a BAFTA award for his starring role in Steve McQueen’s TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, alongside Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti.

 

 

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ANIKA NONI ROSE – plays Kainene
Anika Noni Rose shot to prominence in her Tony Award winning performance in the 2004 Broadway musical, Caroline, or Change. Her first major film role came in 2006 with DREAMGIRLS in which she co-starred with Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy.

The film received an AFI ensemble award, as well as a SAG Award nomination and both the soundtrack and her song ‘Patience’ were nominated for Academy Awards. In 2009, Rose voiced Princess Tiana in Disney’s THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. The film received three Oscar nominations and she became the youngest inductee to ever be honoured as a Disney Legend.

 

 

joseph MawleJOSEPH MAWLE – plays Richard
Joseph Mawle’s first television role was Sir Tificate in the BAFTA-winning series Sir Gadabout, the Worst Knight in the Land (2002) for CITV. He went on to feature in Alex Holmes’s mini-series Dunkirk for BBC2 which won a Factual Drama BAFTA. Mawle came to national recognition through the BAFTA winning drama SOUNDPROOF (2007), which won him a breakthrough nomination at the Royal Television Society Awards. The year continued with two performances under the direction of Adrian Shergold, the first in Jane Austen’s Persuasion for ITV and the second in the controversial gay drama Clapham Junction for Channel 4. In 2008, he played Jesus in The Passion for BBC/HBO.

The following year he had roles in the critically acclaimed BAFTA nominated dramas The Street and Freefall. Mawle played The Ripper in James Marsh’s The Red Riding Trilogy in 2009 and the following year saw him star in BBC drama Five Daughters about the Ipswich prostitute murders, in Dominic Savage’s TV film Dive and alongside an all-star international cast in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. 2011 was another busy year as he starred in DH Lawrence adaptation, Women in Love, with Rosamund Pike and Rory Kinnear. Mawle appeared as Benjen Stark in the smash HBO series Game of Thrones which gained an ensemble performance SAG Award nomination. In 2012 Joseph was BAFTA nominated for his role in Birdsong, alongside Eddie Redmayne. He has recently completed filming on The Tunnel for Sky Atlantic with Clemence Posey and Stephen Dillane.

 

 

John Boyega
JOHN BOYEGA – plays Ugwu
John Boyega is best known for his leading role in Joe Cornish’s BAFTA nominated ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011), a South London set zombie thriller in which Boyega starred with Jodie Whittaker. He has also been seen in JUNKHEARTS (2011), a drama starring Eddie Marsan, Tom Sturridge and
Romala Garai.

Boyega has taken leading roles in TV productions including Spike Lee’s Da Brick for  HBO and the BBC’s My Murder, based on a true story about the gangland death of a London boy. Boyega has recently filmed BBC drama The Whale, a dramatisation of events that inspired Moby Dick.

 

 

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GENEVIEVE NNAJI – plays Miss Adebayo
Genevieve started her film career in 1998 and became the first actor to be awarded Best Actress at the maiden edition of the prestigious African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in 2005. Her popularity also transcends Nigerian shores.

In 2009, she made history by being the only African actress to be profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2010, she was featured as a ‘Connector of the day’ on ‘CNN Connect’ and soon afterwards she was profiled on CNN’s ‘African Voices’.

 

 

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ONYEKA ONWENU – Mama
Onyeka Onwenu is a multi talented artiste whose work as a singer/songwriter has earned her a place in the ‘Hall Of Fame’ of Nigeria’s best known and admired musicians. In a career spanning over 32 years, she has recorded some of Nigeria’s most memorable hits, and has collaborated with artistes including King Sunny Ade. She was awarded the Nigerian national honour Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), and plays ‘Developmental Music’, often raising awareness about social issues related to peaceful coexistence, family planning and the well being of women and children. As an actress, Onyeka Onwenu’s contribution to the growth of Nigeria’s film industry has earned her widespread recognition, including the prestigious AMAA Award. As a journalist, she wrote and presented the widely acclaimed 1984 BBC/NTA production Nigeria: A Squandering of Riches. It remains the definitive film about corruption in oil rich Nigeria.

Onwenu is a graduate of Wellesley College, Massachusetts and the New School for Social Research in New York. She worked as a Tour Guide at The United Nations in New York before returning to Nigeria, where she has lived and worked since 1980, as an artiste, social critic and politician, campaigning for financial autonomy for Local Government Administration. She is a mother of two sons, Tijani and Abraham Ogunlen.

 

 

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BIYI BANDELE – Screenwriter/Director

A prolific Nigerian playwright, novelist and screenwriter now based in London, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is Biyi Bandele’s feature film directorial debut. This first feature follows his distinguished career writing and directing plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court, and writing screenplays for the BBC and British and international film productions.
Bandele has previously written and directed a short, THE KISS (2009), a psychological thriller. For television Bandele wrote Not Even God is Wise Enough directed by Danny Boyle for BBC2 in 1994 and Bad Boy Blues for BBC2 (1995). He has also written a number of BBC radio dramas including Oroonoko (Radio 3, 2003), City of Spades (Radio 4, 2002) and Things Fall Apart (Radio 3, 1998).

His prolific writing for theatre includes his adaptation of Aphra Benn’s Oroonoko, which was a huge hit for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2000, and was successfully revived by New York’s Theatre for a New Audience in 2007. He wrote Brixton Stories for London’s Tricycle Theatre in 2001 and Yerma for the Edinburgh International Festival in 2000. The same year he worked on Happy Birthday, Mister Deka D at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. Earlier work, all in London. includes Thieves Like Us Southwark Playhouse (1998), Things Fall Apart, Ambassadors Theatre (1997), Me and the Boys, Finborough Theatre (1996), Death Catches the Hunter, BAC (1995), Two Horsemen, Gate Theatre (transferred to Bush Theatre, 1994), Resurrections, Talawa Theatre Company, Cochrane Theatre (1994), In the Grove… Royal Court Theatre (At the Tabernacle, 1994), Marching For Fausa, Royal Court Theatre (1993) and Rain, Yaa Asantewaa (1991).

Bandele’s fiction writing includes Burma Boy published by Jonathan Cape in 2007 (published as The King’s Rifle, Harper Collins in the US in 2009); The Street, Picador, 1999; The Sympathetic Undertaker & Other Dreams, Heinemann, 1994; and The Man Who Came In From The Back Of Beyond, Heinemann, 1993.


To see the trailer and for full production notes, click here

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Busy, busy, Its going to be an exciting 2014!

21.03.14

Hello Film Lovers,
I hope all is well and good,
Do we have some good film news for you!

Good to be finally communicating with you as it’s been such a busy 2014 already and wow it’s almost the end of March already – this year has just raced along and we here at Kush have just about noticed; as right now we are in film heaven and work overload.

We are currently working on the marketing for two big new films which we want to tell you all about and hopefully you will decide to go and see them yourselves and also give us your feedback once seen.

The first film is STARRED UP (18) a very, very serious new British film depicting a startling view of prison life and how it affects young people (our young people), watching this film made me suddenly become thoughtful about all the young men and women now growing up angry without adequate or in some cases no parental guidance at all and finding themselves incarcerated.

Prison life is brutal and vicious and somewhat not geared to rehabilitation, it’s a miracle that some do find their way in life after incarceration.

Did you know that at the end of June 2013 there were 6,262 prison inmates in prisons in England aged 18-20 (7%).  10% of the prison population are aged 18-25 and 21-24 yr olds made up 15% of the prison population (12,822).

Black and Black British people made up 2.8 percent of the population but 13.2% of the prison population.

STARRED UP depicts prison life plainly, thrillingly and of course shockingly but in such a real-to-life way that the deeper you go into the film you really begin to understand the young lead characters PrisonWalkangry need for violence and you even absolutely feel sorry for him at the end.  Many young children in jail are products of their environment and know no better and only know one way of how to protect themselves and their fragile vulnerability.     

 

At the beginning of this week Kush organised a press screening and invited all the hot influential young entrepreneurs running media business along with a few older media & press personnel and as far as I know everyone that has seen the film young and old has been totally gripped, startled, excited and finally praising of the film (women and men alike), it’s also quite funny in places. It’s a must see – I say!

It is one of the best British films I have seen in a very long time and the star turn performance by young Jack O’Connell (Skins) is worthy of a rising star tag!  The supporting cast of David Ajala, Ashley Chin, David Avery, Rupert Friend  & Anthony Welsh

Starred Up is In UK cinemas from today: Friday 21st Marchtry it you may like it!
I Loved it!

You can find out more info on the film on our New Releases and Film Review pages.

STARRED-UP-_quad-posterFINARelease Date: March 21st 2014 / Certificate: 18
FIND YOUR LOCAL CINEMA BY CLICKING HERE

 Make sure to check-out the Kush review for Starred Up
You can also follow ‘Starred Up’ on Twitter @starred_up

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The other film we are working on is “Half Of A Yellow Sun”, a new epic super-dooper Nigerian film starring Oscar Winner Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton (Crash), Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls)  & young John Boyega (Attack The Block). I know many of you are familiar with the story through the award winning novel written by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has again recently won an American literary award for her new novel Americanah, which allegedly Lupita Nyong’o is in talks with her to make into a film.

Half Of A Yellow Sun directed by Nigerian Biyi Bandele known for his theatre work may be the film that takes Nollywood to Hollywood, this is no low budget film it’s a sprawling epic piece of filmmaking that has great performances from the cast and I think this is easily one of Thandie Newton’s best career performances.

I will be letting you all know all about the upcoming premiere which we are working on where Chiwetel and others from the cast will be present.

Half Of A Yellow Sun will arrive in UK cinemas on 11 April 2014.

I am expecting the African and African-Caribbean communities to unite and come out in force to support this film and give it great box office figures upon release confirming the arrival of larger budget size black films from the continents of Europe and Africa.

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O
lanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are glamorous twins from a wealthy Nigerian family. Returning to a privileged city life in newly independent 1960s Nigeria after their expensive English education, the two women make very different choices. Olanna shocks her family by going to live with her lover, the “revolutionary professor” Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his devoted houseboy Ugwu (John Boyega) in the dusty university town of Nsukka; Kainene turns out to be a fiercely successful businesswoman when she takes over the family interests, and surprises herself when she falls in love with Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English writer.

Preoccupied by their romantic entanglements, and a betrayal between the sisters, the events of their life loom larger than politics. However, they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war, in which the lgbo people fought an impassioned struggle to establish Biafra as an independent republic, ending in chilling violence which shocked the entire country and the world.

Based on the award-winning best seller by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is the feature film debut from London based Nigerian playwright, novelist and screenwriter Biyi Bandele. Starring Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), BAFTA-winner Thandie Newton (Crash), BAFTA-nominee Joseph Mawle (Birdsong), Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) and John Boyega (Attack the Block).

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is an epic love-story weaving together the lives of four people swept up in the turbulence of war, produced by Andrea Calderwood of Slate Films (The Last King of Scotland).

A FILM BY BIYI BANDELE | BASED ON THE BESTSELLING NOVEL BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE

STARRING: THANDIE NEWTON | CHIWETEL EJIOFOR | ANIKA NONI ROSE | JOSEPH MAWLE | JOHN BOYEGA |GENEVIEVE NNAJI | ONYEKA ONWENU

Release date: 11 April 2014

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Well that’s me for another month; got lots of work to do which includes the continued development of kushfilms.com so be prepared to see some new changes happening to the site over the course of the next two-three month with new pages & sections that we hope you will like and enjoy using.

If there is anything I can do to help you in your film industry career then please let me know?

advice on best career routes, how best to promote and market your film, where to look for government funding, film exhibition etc then please feel free to send me an email: info@kushfilms.com

Best

Marlon Palmer
Director