Nigerian censors bicker over Biafran war film

The screening of the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s civil-war novel Half of a Yellow Sun has been postponed by censors in Nigeria amid suggestions that it could whip up tribal sentiment.

The widely praised film is an intimate portrait of the lives of two sisters against the backdrop of Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war, in which a doomed attempt by Igbo secessionists to carve Biafra out as a sovereign state left almost a million dead.

The film, which made it to the top 10 in London cinemas over Easter, stars Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the star of 12 Years a Slave. “We’re very shocked and surprised. It’s a complete mystery why it’s been delayed,” said Biyi Bandele, the award-winning director of the film.

He said officials from Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board had failed to approach him with any concerns since a worldwide premiere of the film at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2013.

More than four decades on, the Biafran war remains a contentious topic in a country where history has recently been removed from the school curriculum.

The film board has delayed giving the film a certification, which means distributors risk falling foul of the law if they show it in public places. Board spokesperson Caesar Kagho said there were “regulatory issuesF with the release.

Distributors told the Guardian the delays resulted from officials bickering over how the film would be received in a country where more than 250 ethnic groups have sometimes clashed with devastating results.

The forthcoming 2015 general elections have taken on an ethnic tone. “It’s purely political,” said the director of a multinational cinema chain.

Bandele, a southern Yoruba who grew up in the north of the country, has repeatedly said the movie could help Nigeria to confront its bloody past. “This film is actually a cautionary tale – I don’t think anybody is going to watch it and be incited to war or division,” Bandele, said.

The war was triggered when the eastern region, dominated by members of the Igbo ethnic group, tried to secede from the newly independent Nigeria.

They claimed their tribesmen were being massacred in the mainly muslim north and accused the federal government of failing to provide protection.

The subject was explored in the memoirs of the acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, an Igbo, in his last published work before his death in 2013. Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read book in African literature.

The film comes against attempts by Nigeria’s leaders to present a united front against Islamist militants seeking to carve a northeastern enclave, even as the country celebrates a century of official nationhood. “A movie like this is a step in the right direction, in the same way Holocaust movies have made people think and talk and learn from the past,” said Vivian Nwakah, a Lagos-based manager. – © Guardian News & Media 2014


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