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What We Learned About Lupita Nyong’o During Her Visit To Nigeria

Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie and Lupita Nyong'O

Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie and Lupita Nyong’O

In 2018, Lupita Nyong’o acquired the rights to adapt Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel Americanah, as a limited series for HBO Max which will have Dana Gurira as showrunner. Americanah was a bestseller and won countless awards, its critique of race in America so light-hearted and fun that it resonated with Nyong’o right away. But we would soon learn that the Oscar winner will play Ifemelu, an Igbo woman who discovers what it means to be black in America.

Sure, this brought on a backlash from Nigerians: ‘’Lupita isn’t Igbo!’’ ‘’Why is a Hollywood actress playing a Nigerian???’’ ‘’She doesn’t have the accent!’’ and a plethora of other arguments. And in truth, these arguments have some justification. Hollywood’s depiction of African characters with the generic African accent has always been problematic, rubbing the people for which these stories matter the most the wrong way. Nyong’o, alongside Guriria, have both been to Lagos for the purpose of research for Americanah. And now Nyogo’o was back on the bequest of Adichie. The private event held over the weekend in Lagos and it was Adichie’s way of introducing Nyongo’o to the Nigerian entertainment industry. Click, click, the cameras flashed, with Instagram influencers curating the occasion as content.

Right from that event, the Americanah adaptation became a real thing. Lupita revealed that Americanah has been a passion project for her since she read the novel back in 2013, and she knew she had to bring it to life on TV screens. She admitted that after reading the book, she cried a lot and found out that they had a mutual friend in the acknowledgment page of Americanah, contacted him to send an email to Chimamanda, met up with the author at Toronto Film Festival and the rest is the result of the forthcoming screen adaptation.

This may not be enough to placate Nigerians who still wish the protagonist was portrayed by a Nollywood actress. But if this helps…Nyong’o is currently learning Igbo and Pidgin. She has Adichie for casual coaching anyway, who paraded her about at the event like a proud sister. And Nyong’o loves Nigeria – clips can be found of the actress enthusiastically singing to Teni’s Case. If you are familiar with the character of Ifemelu from Americanah, she was depicted as boisterous and energetic and although she had her moments of inwardness as she navigated the knotty issues of race and identity, she was, on the whole, a full, lively character. This does not need reminding again but Nyong’o is an Oscar-winning actress, and incredibly talented too (she plays two viscerally opposite characters in Jordan Peele’s horror film Us).

I heard someone say all they had to do was sprinkle the Igbo accent on her and she’s good to go but Nyong’o will be joined by Zackary Momoh, who will play her Nigerian love interest Obinze, and there’s Uzo Aduba, as well as Corey Hawkins. Chinonye Chukwu, best known for the drama film Clemency, will direct the first two episodes. Part of the deal was that Americanah will be shot in Lagos. The novel itself spans three continents, so it will be interesting to see Nyong’o and Momoh play their characters’ pre-American years.

A lot of people have faith in Nyong’o, yet a lot still needs to be convinced. But think of this – she showed interest in acquiring the rights while other Nollywood filmmakers looked on. Granted, optioning a book for television or a film is expensive and Nollywood needs funding. It is expected that Nyong’o will be in Lagos in the coming months, to get more familiar with the city’s peculiar chaotic energy. It will probably mean so much to her if fans of Americanah and Nigerians at large supports her. Filming is set to being next month, which Nyong’o will helm as producer. Americanah had been imagined originally as a film but how do you condense all those pages into a film? Aside from the concept of race, there are a number of subjects we would like to see get explored in the series. For example, feminism. Americanah is arguably Adichie’s boldest yet cheekiest take on the subject, a powerful political lens through which Ifemelu saw the world around her and navigated romantic relationships. Also, this is another Adichie novel adaptation and we are getting and we think Nyong’o is very much in control.

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