Thandie Newton is bi-racial, and not Igbo

Thandi Newton choice as a female lead in the screen adaptation of "Half of a Yellow Sun" has some people upset.

Still of Thandie Newton in "Good Deeds" (2012).

I’ve never been able to finish Chimamanda Adichie’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, set during the Biafran War in the late 1960s. This is despite the fact that it won high praise from mainstream Western critics. See here, here and here. Anyway, by the time I might actually finish it, the film version will probably be in theaters.  The Nigerian-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (highlights: “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Inside Man”) has already agreed to star in the film adaptation, alongside Dominic Cooper (“Captain America”). This week Screen Daily reported that Zimbabwean-British actress Thandi Newton (credits: “Crash,” “Mission Impossible”) will be a female lead.

This news is all rather straightforward. Until you read that not everyone is happy with the choice of Newton as a female lead. There’s already an online petition to have Newton replaced with a Nigerian actress. Specifically, the petitioners want a darker actress to play. The petition notes, among others, that “… Igbo people do not look like the bi-racial Thandie Newton.” The petitioners are confused. While acknowledging that “Igbo people, like any other people range in physical characteristics as well as complexion,” they still insist a light-skinned Newton cannot portray an Igbo. It is unclear what they mean by “she does not physically resemble Igbo women in the slightest.” Newton then gets blamed for skin-bleaching among Nigerian women, and for mass media favoring light-skinned actors and models.

You can read similar comments on posts about Newton’s casting at the popular film blog Shadow and Act here and here.

By the way, separate from casting issues, the previous credits of the two producers of “Half of a Yellow Sun” include “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Constant Gardener,” both films noted for their problematic treatments of African subjects. Ejiofor may change that. He has played Africans on screen before. In “Dirty Pretty Things” he was excellent as an African migrant caught up in the goings on at a seedy London hotel, while in the not-so-good “Red Dust” he played an activist appearing before South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has also played Thabo Mbeki in the made-for-TV movie “Endgame.”  Hopefully, he does it for “Half of a Yellow Sun” too.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.