Half of a Yellow Sun (2013)

 

 

 

Director:     Biyi Bandele.

Starring:     Thandie Newton (Olanna), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Odenigbo), John Boyega (Ugwu), Anika Noni Rose (Kainene), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Captain Dutse), Joseph Mawle (Richard), Babou Ceesay (Okeoma), Paul Hampshire (Professor Lehman), Robert Davide (Redhead Charles), Genevieve Nnaji (Ms Adebayo), O.C. Ukeje (Aniekwena), Susan Wokoma (Amala), Zack Orji, Onyeka Onwenu (Mama), Kasper Michaels (Plump Charles).

twin sisters from a wealthy Nigerian family take wildly different paths in life, but both become swept up in the struggle to establish Biafra as a republic  independent of Nigeria

 

Spoiler Warning:

"Lagos, capital of Nigeria, prepares to give the welcome of its life to Queen Elizabeth II, or in its own language to "oba obinrin", the King Lady. A million Nigerians are here to greet her. Seventeen hours from the mists of London Airport, the Queen’s Argonaut comes to rest in the sunshine of Ikeja, the airport of Lagos. The guard of honor is mounted by the Nigeria Regiment, many of whom like the Queen’s husband, wears the Burma Star."

"Governor-General Sir James Robertson and Lady Robertson welcome the royal couple as they leave the Argonaut. In a temperature around the hundred mark, the Queen still looks cool as the royal car makes its 13-mile journey to the capital. Every foot of the way, the road is packed with Nigerians. The welcome is as tremendous as any Her Majesty has ever been given. And it’s a proud welcome, for this is no longer a people in colonial subjugation, but a free nation with its feet already firmly on the road to self-government."

Lagos, western Nigeria. Independence Day, 1st October 1960. Two sisters, Olanna and Kainene, are getting ready to have dinner with guests at home. Kainene asks Olanna if she is going to help father get his contracts? Olanna ask what does sister mean? "Will you be spreading your legs for the right honorable minister in exchange of daddy’s contracts?" Olanna ignores Kainene.

The finance minister asks Olanna about coming to work for the ministry. "We need first-class brains like yours." Olanna says that she is going to Nsukkae, and will be leaving next week. She says she got a job as a lecturer in the Department of Sociology there. [Nsukka is in South-East Nigeria in Enugu State and is the home of the Igbo ethnic group. Nsukka Town is the site of the University of Nigeria.]

So the minister asks that the family come to his home over the weekend. Olanna says she can’t because she has made plans to go to Kano to be with Uncle Mbaezi and the family. The minister now asks Kainene about the weekend. She says that she’s moving to Port Harcourt to manage daddy’s businesses there. Dad says that Kainene will oversee all of his businesses in the east.

And now the young women excuse themselves from the table, saying that there are a thousand and one parties going on tonight for Independence Day.

Olanna and Kainene are at a party. A white man named Graham at the party talks about the ethnic groups in Nigeria. [Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups. The Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Fulani account for more than 70% of the population.] He says the Hausa are a dignified lot, the Yoruba are rather jolly and are first-rate lickspittles and the Igbo are . . . At this point Kainene comes over to the fellow, who introduces her as Kainene Ozobia, Chief Ozobia’s daughter and a summa um laude graduate of Yale, as well as an Oxford graduate, to Susan Grenville-Pitts from the British Council and Richard Churchill.

Richard is really taken by the beauty of Kainene. Kainene walks away from him, but he follows her and starts up a conversation. She thinks Richard is married to Susan, but he says no. Kainene says her sister is looking for her, and she should go, but she will introduce Richard to Olanna. Richard tells her don’t go and he would rather talk to her than Olanna. But Susan comes over to them and grabs Richard away very quickly.

Olanna was watching her sister and tells her she can’t be interested in that fellow? What about Ukefu or Ian with the dimples? Kainene says it’s over with Ukefu, Ian and Robert. Olanna says Robert is here at the party, but it turns out that sister was only joking.

Richard telephones Kainene. The two of them go out dancing. They kiss on the dance floor. They end up in bed together. Kainene asks Richard if he ran away to Nigeria to get away from something? He says no. He just wanted to see Africa so he took leave from the Spectator and here he is. And now he has accepted an offer to join the faculty at Nsukka. Kainene says that her sister is there and he can come visit her in Port Harcourt.

Olanna arrives in Kano and greets her uncle and aunt and later her cousin, who asks Olanna if she is going to marry Odenigbo. Olana says she just wants to live closer to Odenigbo in Nsukka.

Odenigbo tells a male servant named Ugwu that a very special woman is arriving soon and he wants the house spotless for her.

Olanna travels from Kano to Nsukka in the Eastern Region. She has dinner with her boyfriend. Later they have sex.

The next evening, the couple are in bed together. Ugwu knocks on the door to say that there are visitors here. Olanna wants to be alone with Odenigbo, but he wants to show her off to his friends. Olanna meets Lara Adebayo, Faculty of Medicine, then Okeoma, an Indian named Victor Patel and a man named Hegel.

Odenigbo’s mother comes to the homes of her son and she has brought ingredients to make "proper soup" for her boy. She tells Ugwu that a boy does not belong in the kitchen. She asks for confirmation from her friend Amala, who agrees with mama.

Odenigbno is not at home now, but Olanna is. Olanna comes out and hugs mama saying she’s happy to meet her. Mama does not look impressed by Olanna. And mama lets Olanna know it right off. She says she’s heard that Olanna did not suck on her mother’s breasts, which stuns Olanna. Then she calls Olanna and her friends witches and that Olanna should tell her friends that she did not see her boy. Her son will not marry an abnormal woman "unless you kill me first".

Mama goes outside to yell to the neighbors that there’s a witch in her son’s house. Olanna tells Ugwu to tell his master that she has gone to her flat.

Odenigbo comes over to Olanna’s flat and apologizes for what his mother said to her. Then he tells her that he has decided to talk to Okeoma about showing support for the labor strike. But Olanna is not going to let him drop the subject of his mother’s behavior. Odenigbo makes excuses for his mother saying that she’s a woman from a small bush village in Abba.

Odenigbo screws up in not acknowledging Olanna’s legitimate hurt. He says he will stay over night with her after he talks to Okeoma, but Olanna says absolutely not. Her boy friend leaves.

Olanna calls her sister, who suspects from the tone in Olanna’s voice, that something bad has happened. Olanna only says that she had a little trouble with Odenigbo’s mama, but won’t go into any details.

Olanna takes a bath. Odenigbo knocks on her door. She wraps a towel around her (brief nudity) and gets out of the tub. She finds Odenigbo a bit drunk, but he wants to take her to his place and he will speak to his mother. Olanna says he doesn’t have to do that. She invites him in to stay the night.

During the night Odenigbo tells his girlfriend that if she won’t marry him, then at least they should have a child. (brief nudity)

Listening to the radio, Odenigbo tells Olanna that there has been a coup in Nigeria. Major Nzeogwu is speaking from Kaduna.

Odenigbo and Olanna have their friends over to celebrate the coup. Okeoma says those soldiers are true heroes. Odenigbo says this is the end of the corruption. Hegel says they shot the finance minister. Olanna is upset. She says she knew Okonji. He was a friend of her family.

Lara says the BBC is calling this an Igbo coup because it was mostly northerners who were killed. Richard, an American, asks isn’t Major Nzeogwu a communist?

TV news says: "The coup did not succeed in Lagos itself. Those politicians that survived asked the army to take control. And Major General Ironsi, an Igbo, took over. He concentrated authority in Lagos and cut down the power of the regions. It looked as if the Igbos were beginning to run the whole country and the North was suspicious."

Lara asks Richard if he’s going to Lagos to give Kainene moral support? Richard says he quite loves Kainene. And it’s her father’s 60th birthday. Lara flirts with Odenigbo, who says he’s not interested in her like that.

Ugwu is awakened by sounds of sex. He sees Odenigbo having sex with Amala.

Olanna returns to Odenigbo’s house and there everybody is acting so strange, probably because of Odenigbo’s having sex with Amala. Mama and Amala are just leaving the house. Olanna asks her boy friend if anything happened?  She says that Odnigbo had sex with Amala. She leaves in a huff.

Boy friend tries to telephone Olanna, but she won’t answer the phone. He runs over to her flat, but she won’t open the door for him. He keeps banging on the door until she opens the door. He says that he was drunk and Amala forced herself on him. It meant nothing. Olanna tells him to get out!

Olanna goes to her auntie for advice. Auntie tells her: "You should never behave as if you life belongs to a man. . . . Your life belongs to you and you alone . . ." She also tells her to go back to her flat and her job.

The news of the day is that they have finally removed the Igbo vice chancellor from the University of Lagos. A man at the airport says that the problem with the Igbo people is that they want to control everything in this country. They own all the shops an control the civil service and the police. And now with the latest coup, they control the army too. Olanna is a bit offended by this because she is Igbo too.

Olanna goes to her boy friend’s house to pick up her belongings. The servants tells her that master looks like someone who has been crying everyday, and he pleads with Olanna to forgive master. She won’t answer the servant.

Odenigbo goes to Olanna’s flat again. He tells her that Amala is pregnant with his child. She lets the man come inside to talk. Amala will have the baby and raise it by herself. Odenigbo then says it was mama who planned this all from the beginning.

Olanna is still very upset with Odenigbo. She goes to the liquor store for some wine. There she runs into Richard and she asks that he come visit with her in her flat, because he has never before visited her there.

They drink wine and then Olanna tells Richard to come down and sit on the floor with her. Richard says he really should leave. She kisses Richard and then they passionately start kissing each other.

Then Olanna goes and has sex with Odenigbo in his place. She then tells him that she slept with Richard. He asks her if she has feelings for Richard? She says no. Odenigbo gets up and leaves the room.

Odenigbo drives over to tell Richard to stay away from his house. Richard says nothing.

Olanna asks her boy friend if they are still trying to have a child?

Mama comes over to the house and tells the servant to take the baby girl and give it to his master for Amala refuses to touch the baby. Then she leaves.

Olanna comes into the house and sees the baby. Odenigbo says he has talked with Amala’s people and they have agreed to take the baby. Olanna looks at the baby and says they’ll keep her.

Olanna informs her sister and Richard that she and Odenigbo are going to keep the baby.  Kainene aks why is sister doing this? Olanna says because the baby girl looks so helpless. During the dinner, the servant comes in and tells about the incident when Odenigbo came over to the house and said terrible things about Master Richard, so now the servant won’t cook anything to take over to Odenigbo’s house.

Kainene now realizes that Richard and her sister must have had sex together. Olanna picks up her purse and leaves the house. Kainene says to Richard that it might be excusable if it was anybody else but her sister. Richard says he’s sorry and Kainene tells Richard he will sleep in the guest room. He tells her: Yes, of course.

In May,Major General Ironsi abolished the regions by decree. This was the last straw for the North. There were riots. And Ironsi’s regime fell after barely six months. At Ibadan, among northern troops, he was killed. Looting, rioting, ambushing left thousands of Igbos dead. Northerners took advantage of the confusion to work off their long-pent-up anger at the economic success of the Igbos who migrated into their own region.

Richard and Olanna meet at the airport by chance. They ignore each other. Then the army comes in and the leader says that he wants all foreigners to come over to him. Now the leader looks at the people’s passports. Then he opens fire killing one Igbo person after another.

Olanna, thank goodness, is no longer at the airport. She is being driven to her auntie’s house. People are running for their lives. She sees a man with a machete grab her auntie and drag her away. Men with machetes are killing Igbos. Olanna gets out of the car, but the cab driver saves her life by grabbing her and throwing her into the back seat. A man throws a machete at the taxi and busts the windshield. The cabbie guns the car and gets away from the killers.

"The governor of the eastern region, Colonel Ojukwu, was questioned about the extent of the killing. He said: ‘I can’t give you the total figures, but this I know that the May 29th rioting did in fact take a toll of some 3,300 Easterners in the North. I know that on the first night of the September rioting, in Zaria alone there were 670, in Karna definitely over a thousand to 1,500.’ "

At his home, Odenigbo gets into a political argument with Lara. He says she has no sympathy for their dead colleagues in other regions of Nigeria. He adds: "You’re going back to your people in Lagos, and nobody will harass you for being Yoruba." Olanna comes out to tell her boy friend that he owes Lara an apology.

Mayfair, London. Richard gets a nice letter from Kainene, so he calls her. She says she misses Richard. He says he’s flying home tomorrow. She tells him to hurry home.

[May 1967, the Eastern Region declared independence as a state called the Republic of Biafra, under the leadership of Lt Colonel Emeka Ojukwu.]

There are celebrations in the east. Olanna and Odenigbo are very happy that they are living in Biafra now.

Richard visits with Kainene. She says war is looming and all of Port Harcourt is going crazy. She says the rest of the country can’t let Biafra be independent because of all its oil. Richard tells her there won’t be a war.

Ojukwu: "If the civil war comes, and I do think it is imminent, our people have for a long time been prepared for this eventuality, and I am confident of their readiness. I think that when it does come that the people on the other side will be surprised as to what they are going to get."

Odenigbo tells Olanna that: "The federals are advancing. I think we should plan on leaving today." Someone bangs on their door telling them to evacuate now. A mans sees Odenigbo and tells him to evacuate now because the federals are moving into Nsukka. Everyone packs their bags very quickly and gets in the car and go.

Refugees are streaming away from Nsukka. Therefore, Odenigbo cannot drive his car fast. They have to go at a walking pace.

They stay at place for the night. Odenigbo asks Olanna to marry him and he asks again and again. She then says yes.

Olanna’s mother tells her that they are going to Cameroon and then they will take a plane to London. She wants Olanna to go with them, but Olanna insists on staying.

Now mama comes to speak to Olanna. She asks Olanna if she would marry her son? Olanna says yes, but doesn’t now why mama has changed her mind about Olanna not marrying her son. Later Olanna speaks to Odenigbo about his mother changing her mind. The son says that’s just mama’s way of saying she’s sorry to Olanna.

Odenigbo and Olanna are leaving Abba and they thought mama was coming with them. But mama says she’s not running away. A man tells mama that the Hausa soldiers are close. He adds that he himself is leaving for Uke, and mama’s son is leaving for Umuahia. Mama still says she’s staying.

The news: "Seven weeks ago, Colonel Ojukwu was on the receiving end of a federal police action to prevent his pulling the former Eastern Region out of the federation. Now it’s a full-scale civil war."

Olanna puts on her wedding dress. Music is playing at the reception and the wedded couple dance together. Just as the wedding cake is going to be cut, a bomb goes off in the street. People have to run for their lives.

One of the wedding guests is hit by a bomb.

Olanna is now teaching school outdoors. Her servant Lugwu is also teaching students.

Olanna runs after her husband saying it’s impossible for him to go back to Abba. Odenigbo insists, however, that he's going to clean up whatever the vultures left behind there. He gets in his car and drives away. Olanna tells the servant that they have to leave because they can’t pay there rent here. She cries saying: "What am I going to do?"

Olanna tells the servant that master’s mama is dead. They shot her in Abba.

Husband returns home to tell Olanna that the Biafran soldiers had set up road blocks and kept telling him to go back. So he parked his car and started to walk. A Biafran soldier cocked his gun and told Odenigbo to turn around or he will shoot him. Odenigbo now says he’s frightened.

Richard is working at a refugee center run by his wife Kainene. He has a guest and is showing the man around the camp. He then asks the man if he could take some letters from him that are going to Kainene’s parents in London?

Coming to a new place to live is Odenigbo, his family and servant. They move into a room. Olanna cries when she’s alone in the room.

Kainene comes to see her sister. Olanna brings sister into her room and she asks how is she? Kainene says things were good until Port Harcourt fell. She’s in Orlu now, in charge of a refugee camp. Kainene is keeping her emotional distance from Olanna. She has brought things for Olanna, but speaks in a monotone.

The next day Olanna, Kainene and daughter Chiamaka go for a walk. Olanna holds hands with her sister.

The news about the airplane bombings:  "At precisely half past one every day, they come over the town as the marketplace is full. As patients are sitting out on the lawns at hospitals. Here comes the next one, it’s flying on the other side of the mission church, sweeping to the right, strafing the ground as they move, dropping incendiary bombs and fragmentation bombs in the market places around here."

"The war is going quite badly. In desperation, Ojukwu mobilized the country’s Boys Brigade to raise morale by showing a new generation was training to take its place at the front line."

Olanna’s servant is picked up by the police. Kainene comes to her telling her to be brave for Ugwu has died. He was with the field engineers and they suffered massive casualties in an operation last week. Olanna walks over to a small bar and starts slapping her husband telling him to drink up for Ugwu has died. She cries. Kainene wants sister and her family to come live with them. Olanna stays put.

Bombs start dropping and again the family has to run for safety. They all get in the car and the drive through the street while bombs drop around them.

Kainene and Richard see women beating a young man for being a thief. The couple runs to the man to get him to safety in their place. Kainene says the man is just a hungry soldier and is not a thief.

Olanna and her family are now staying with Kainene and Richard. Kainene says that she's going to go buy some things and sell some things made by the refugees. Odenigbo says that the road there has been sometimes held by the enemy and he suggests that Kainene not go.

Kainene goes, but doesn’t come back and now Richard and Olanna are driving around asking people if they have seen this woman in the photograph. They all say no. They have to return home with no knowledge of where Kainene is.

Richard gets a phone call the next day. Ugwu is alive. Richard and Odenigbo go pick up Ugwu.

The news: "General Ojukwu, who led the Biafran secession in Nigeria, is on his way to seek political asylum in the Ivory Coast. He is said to have with him 3,000 pounds of luggage and his Mercedes-Benz car."

Another man speaks: " I, Major General Philip Effiong, officer and chief administering the government of the Republic of Biafra now wish to make the following declaration."

The war is over! The Republic of Biafra ceases to exist.

Richard is going to look for Kainene. Olanna and the family head back to Nsukka.

 

"Kainene is still missing. Richard moved back to Nsukka. He still lives there. Olanna and Odenigbo have been together for nearly fifty years. Ugwu is now a writer. Chiamaka is now a medical doctor."

 

It's good to have a Nigerian film.  The film deals with the time that the small section of the country known as Biafra tried to pull away from the rest of Nigeria. Two sisters and the men they love get caught up in the fighting that drastically changes all their lives.  Thandie Newton (as Olanna) and Anika Noni Rose (Kainene) were both gorgeous and fine actresses. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world.  Nigeria also has the biggest economy in Africa.  The country is inhabited by over 500 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

1960  --  Nigeria becomes independent of the United Kingdom.

There are serious ethnic differences among the Nigerians.  The northern Sudan and Sahelian Savannah region has a Muslim majority.  The southern population is predominantly Christian and Animist.

The Hausa and Fulani are in the north.  Yoruba are in the southwest.  Ijaws are in the south.  Igbo are in the southeast. 

1966 (January)  --   a group of primarily eastern Igbo lead a military coup during which 30 political leaders including Nigeria's Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and the Northern premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, are killed.  President Nnamdi Azikiwe an Igbo is spared.. The premier of the southeastern section is also spared. 

1966 (July)  --  the north has a counter-coup. General Yakubu "Jack" Gowon becomes the head of the Federal Military Government (FMG).

1966 (September)  --  approximately 30,000 Igbo are killed in the north.  In revenge in eastern cities are killed..

1967 (January)  --  the military leaders and senior police officials of each region of Nigeria meet in Aburi, Ghana.  They agree on a loose confederation of regions.

The Northerners do not like the Aburi Accord.  The leader of the Western Region, Obafemi Awolowo, warns that if the Eastern Region secedes from Nigeria, the Western Region would do the same.  The Eastern region secedes from Nigeria.

1967 (May 30)  --  Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern Region's military governor, announces the creation of the Republic of Biafra, but the Eastern region is not prepared or equipped for war.  The British and Soviet support the Nigerian federal government.

1976 (July 6)  --  the federal government tries to annex the Eastern Region, but they are unsuccessful. 

1967 (August)   --  the Biafrans launch an offensive and occupy areas in the Mid-Western Region

1967 (October)  --  the federal government regains the land lost to the Biafrans. 

1968 (September) --  the federal army launch a "final offensive", but the Biafrans stopped them.  Later a Southern federal offensive manages to break the Biafrans. 

1969 (December)  --  the federal government cuts Biafra in half. 

1970 (January 12)  --  Biafrans called for a cease-fire.

1970 (January 15)  --  Nigeria reabsorbs Biafra.  More than one million people died in battle or from starvation.

 

 

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