When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie met Sweden

Last Sunday the Göteborg International Film Festival and International Writers’ Stage Gothenburg co-hosted a conversation between Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Swedish film critic Jannike Åhlund (JÅ). It got weird quickly.

The day after the event (marketed as “Storytelling, colonial past and the present–a conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”) I read columns and Facebook-statuses by horrified attendees. Aware that things often become awkward when Swedes talk about Africa, I was still unprepared for what transpired until I saw video-recording of the event on YouTube (embedded below).

I don’t expect anyone who isn’t a masochist, lover of the bizarre, a student of Euro-supremacy or a diehard fan of Chimamanda (who’s in total control), to sit through the entire conversation, which includes JÅ comparing Half of a Yellow Sun to Gone with the Wind (8:55); JÅ declaring that the actress Thandi Newton, who played the female lead in the film version of Half of a Yellow Sun, is “really white being the twin-sister of Olanna,” prompting Chimamanda to deliver the phenomenal mini-lecture “The Different Ranges of Colour in which Black People Come” (12:45) and JÅ objecting to Chimamanda bringing up Sweden’s colonizing past, prompting another brilliant lecture on Europe’s inability to talk about the legacy of colonialism in an honest way (47:25).

If you, like me, are all of the above, you’ll have a field day though.

In the organizers’ defense, I would call what some considered a disastrous event successful, since it perfectly illustrated how the components in the event’s title play out in today’s Sweden — a country living under the illusion of a special kind of exceptionalism, which includes the assumption that it is “less affected by postcolonial relations than other nations” (the media studies scholar Ylva Habel’s definition).

Here’s the full video:



Katarina Hedrén

Katarina Hedrén, based in Johannesburg, writes about film for Africa is a Country.

  1. I was there! Seriously though. The moderator started by asking why Chimamanda is so in love with Sweden. I can’t find it in the video now, but there was a time when her eyes actually popped out of her head. Katarina you’ve nailed it.

  2. I respectfully disagree with this article’s assessment of the discussion. I think it’s an honest conversation and that Jannike agreed with all of Chimamanda’s assessments. I think Jannike learned something from this conversation too. Chimamanda is a great person!

  3. I was expecting a trainwreck; I guess I’m just used to dealing with clueless white ladies who “love Africa.” Chimamanda is now my new role model for how to deal with them — respectfully sassy.

  4. Honestly, I didn’t find this weird at all, just a wonderful, wonderful watch. Adichie’s responses are thoughtful, measured and beautifully expressed, Despite not being a masochist, love of the bizarre or die-hard Adichie fan, I really enjoyed watching the entire video.

  5. The legendary anti apartheid activist Don Mattera former political editor of the Sowetan spent a year in Sweden as a Kurt Tucholsky prize recipient. His final analysis was that the swedes should sort out their hypocrisy at home. He was even pelted with eggs in Stockholm for being a black man. The Roma (so called gypsies) have lived in Sweden for 500 years, they are still mass registered as a community of potential thieves as has been recently exposed creating an international outcry. I fully support my white brothers Assange, Manning, Snowden whom the swedish state undermines to lick USA ass. Will the black woman SA Ambassdor in Sweden have the courage to protest at the treatment of Julian Assange to the swedish foreign ministry or is she busy singing, dancing and living the high life in her luxury villa at the SA taxpayes expense?

  6. Funny that Chimamanda, who, before Thandie Newton was cast in this film went on and on about Hollywood only casting light-skinned black actresses, should suddenly discover, now that Newton is in the film, that black women come in all sorts of shades. Next she will be explaining why Beyonce’s hair should be considered an exception to her “natural hair fundamentalism”. She is a hypocrite.

  7. Actually, Patrice2020, Adichie explicitly calls out Beyonce in _Americanah_ for never showing the world her natural hair. The novel also discusses, at length, various shades of black skin, and the cultural hierarchy that accompanies them. It’s no “sudden discovery”, and she’s no hypocrite.

Mailing List

Sign up for email updates!


Not the continent with 54 countries

©Africa is a Country, 2016