The “Americanah” Controversy: On Lupita Nyong’O Being Cast To Play The Role Of Ifemelu

Word came out recently that Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’O would act the lead role in the adaptation of Chimamanda’s bestselling novel, “Americanah” a miniseries; pilot-written by Danai Gurira. Lupita had met and fallen in love with the book some time in 2013 when she preordered it. In an interview, she said that she “could not put [the book] down.” That, “[t]o see an African woman whose identity was in flux in the way that Ifemelu’s is in the book just spoke to me so deeply.” And because she couldn’t stop thinking about the book, she contacted Chimamanda.

She said, “I had no stars or stripes to my name except, ‘I’m an actress from Kenya and I read your book and I love it and I’m going to be in this movie called 12 Years a Slave.’ I had no idea what that meant anyway, but I knew I wanted to make this.”

Today she has a lot of stars, and no stripes, to her name, having starred in such movies as “12 Years a Slave” (Patsey), “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Maz Kanata), “Queen of Katwe” (Nakku Harriet), “Us” (Adelaide Wilson/ Red), among others.

The issue, however, is how Nigerians have come to hold different opinions about the issue of her acting the role of an Igbo woman in a novel by an Igbo woman. While no Nigerian disputes the fact that Lupita is a very talented actress, some are concerned about the accent. But the thing is, that’s why she’s an actress; the level of her talent is what we should look at. And, more than that, her connection to the story. And, yes, Lupita connects so well to that story—the story, not really of an Igbo woman, but, as Elizabeth Day notes in her review of the book in The Guardian, “… a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – … a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.”

A good actress like Lupita would do justice to that story.

However, the controversy is not really from the Nigerian side, but from the Kenyan’s, who have been throwing insults from their side of the fence. It seems as if it’s now they get the chance to pour out all the anger and bitterness they’ve held for a while.

MCA_KELLY_LEWIS_254 writes, “Kenya produced Lupita Nyong’O, the first African and Mexican actress, and Barack Obama Among others. Shame on you Nigerians.”

SnoodBoy senior writes, “Nigerians should wait for a Juju or films showcasing witchcraft, that’s what they do best, ooh wait, and online fraud movies, remember you are the only ones with yahoo boys in the whole world…”

easy-ke writes, “#Nigerians please relax let #Kenya shine in peace. Do you remember when your artists were featured in Lion King despite the movie drawing inspiration from East Africa.Did we complain your artists can’t sing in Swahilli?”

Sagamite writes, “They would not do shit because it is not about juju or forbidden love.

The storyline is above the intellectual level of the buffoons that are Nollywood people.”

Sagamite wrote elsewhere, “Some yeye people are talking about “Good Nigerian actresses”.

That is as dumb as saying good Nigerian neighbourhoods/roads.

Might be seen as “good” locally. Internationally, all are poor or pure shit.”

Let us just sit back and wait for Lupita, the woman who read the story and loved it, who went on to believe she could bring it to the screen when she wasn’t even a known name yet—let us sit back and believe she’d not disappoint.

Ernest Ogunyemi

Ernest O. Ogunyemi enjoys playing with words to express what he feels within, or wants to feel. His stories have appeared in magazines and blogs such as Tuck Magazine, Naija Stories, Poetry Soup and his poetry is forthcoming in Acumen91 (out in May) and African Writing. Currently, he is working on a short story collection: Weaving Fine Rhythms from Broken Tunes.

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