June 11, 2014

Lupita Nyong’o is cast in “Americanah,” but the last Adichie film is still delayed by Nigerian censors


Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o has signed on to produce and star in the adapation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi's award-winning book, Americanah.

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has signed on to produce and star in the adapation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s award-winning book, Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year, seems well-suited for the stage or screen. It could be a sort of subversion of Steel Magnolias: set in Trenton, with a group of women who aren’t particularly friendly but share some customs (including regular visits to the salon), and are working hard to live and work in America while navigating race, cultural, and financial challenges.

Most of the tension lies in moments when characters choose whether to speak up or hold their tongues, from the protagonist’s rejection of hair relaxer to her love interest’s struggle to tell his wife he’s still in love with his childhood sweetheart. It could translate well to the screen, too.

A movie version is coming from Plan B, the production company that belongs to Brad Pitt and was behind Twelve Years A Slave. Lupita Nyong’o is producing the film, and will be cast as Ifemelu, the sharp-witted Nigerian blogger at the center of Adichie’s story.

The actress released the news on Instagram, and said in a statement, “Page after page I was struck by (the characters’) stories, whose experiences as African immigrants are so specific and also so imminently relatable. It is a thrilling challenge to tell a truly international story so full of love, humor and heart.”

Her early fan letter to the author paid off. “Lupita was a very early fan of Americanah,” Adichie told Arise Entertainment 360. “And so before she was sort of well-known in the way that she is now, she wrote me… the loveliest email, a very long and passionate email about Americanah.”

The news arrives while the release of a film based on Adichie’s previous novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is in limbo in Nigeria. Nigerian government censors have been delaying the release since late April, though it’s not officially banned. The Biafran War (1967-70) is still difficult to bring up in literature or in film, and censors say there’s a risk Half of a Yellow Sun could incite violence. They are objecting to a massacre at northern Nigerian airport, according to the author.

In an article for The New Yorker, Adichie called it “part of a larger Nigerian political culture that is steeped in denial, in looking away… Nigerians are sophisticated consumers of culture and, had the censorship board not politicized the film by delaying its release, I suspect that few people would have objected to it at all.”

The film’s director Biyi Bandele said, “One of the reasons Nigeria is more divided today — 40 years after the end of the war — than it was before the war started, is because we have refused to talk about the elephant in the room.”

No release date has been announced, though it is under review with the National Film and Video Censors Board.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.