Various Nigerian press outlets and journalists (via Twitter) are reporting that Biyi Bandele’s “Half Of A Yellow Sun” – a film adaptation of celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel of the same name – has finally been cleared by the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, for local release. The announcement didn’t include a date that the film will eventually be released now that it’s been approved for release. According to the Board’s Corporate Affairs representative, Caesar Kagho, the film has been approved with an “18” rating, which, based on my research, is the equivalent of an “R” rating here in the USA, which matches what the MPAA rated it for USA release. This news comes over 2 months after the film was initially set to open in Nigerian theaters (it’s already been released in the USA and the UK, and is already available on home video in both regions). It was to open in Nigeria, where the film is set, on Friday, April 25, but that didn’t happen, as its release date was postponed, and has since been delayed, due to “delays in getting certification from Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board.” Government censors said that they delayed the release of the film because “it might incite violence in the country” given its subject matter – specifically, a scene that details a massacre at a northern Nigerian airport – in light of current political turmoil within the country. Nevermind that it’s a film whose backdrop – the Biafran war, which saw millions killed – is based on fact. I’ve always said, since this all began, that the Censors Board might not be giving Nigerian audiences enough credit, and ultimately, this would likely end up being much ado about nothing, as the noise created by the film’s release delays may actually drowned out any made by audiences about the content, after the film is finally released. What led to the film’s eventual Census Board approval isn’t yet public information. It was previously reported that the bureau wanted certain scenes to be cut from the film in order for approval to be granted. So maybe we are to assume that the producers of the film accepted the compromise. In this case, we can probably thank the growing global reach of the source novel’s author (Adichie), who would eventually utilize her influence to pen an op-ed for The New Yorker
The censors’ action is a knee-jerk political response, yet there is a sense in which it is not entirely unreasonable. Nigeria is on edge, with upcoming elections that will be fiercely contested, religion and ethnicity increasingly politicized, and Boko Haram committing mass murders and abductions. In a political culture already averse to openness, this might seem a particularly appropriate time for censorship. But we cannot hide from our history. Many of Nigeria’s present problems are, arguably, consequences of an ahistorical culture. As a child, I sometimes found rusted bullets in our garden, reminders of how recent the war had been. My parents are still unable to talk in detail about certain war experiences. The past is present, and we are better off acknowledging it and, hopefully, learning from it.You can read the full insightful piece here. And director Biyi Bandele followed that up with his own op-ed, sharing his frustrations with the Censors Board, in piece he wrote for CNN’s African Voices, titled “Why can’t Nigerians watch country’s biggest movie?” In the piece, Bandele also chastised the Censors Board, drawing a connection in sentiment between its members and Boko Haram.
Since the Toronto premiere those many months ago, I’ve seen “Half of a Yellow Sun” at other film festivals in all corners of the globe. And Nigerians being the ubiquitous people that we are have been present in the audiences — quite often in great numbers — at each of these festivals. I am yet to meet a single Nigerian who has seen the film who came out of the cinema thinking that they had just seen a film that would incite anyone to violence. If anything, more than once, I’ve been accosted by cinema-goers — some Nigerian, but really, people of all races — who have been profoundly moved by the experience of watching the film. The refrain I’ve heard from them is, war is nasty, isn’t it.He then called on Patricia Bala, director-general of the Censors board, to do what he believed was the right thing, and allow Nigerians in Nigeria to see the film as it’s meant to be seen; not illegally, speaking to the local movie industry’s piracy problem.
Whether or not the film eventually gets a ratings certificate in Nigeria, “Half of a Yellow Sun” will be seen by millions of Nigerians. The question is: will they be allowed to see it in their local cinemas and on legally acquired DVDs or will they be forced to watch it on pirate DVDs and through illegal downloads? If the biggest film that’s ever been made in Nigeria is available to Nigerians only in bootleg form, the censorship board will be doing to the Nigerian film industry what Boko Haram is trying to do to Nigeria: drive a stake through its heart. I sincerely hope they both fail.Those in the USA will remember when, as one example, Spike Lee’s incendiary “Do The Right Thing” was a similar concern for distributors and theaters during the year of its release, who feared that the film would spark riots and violence. It didn’t.