I think it goes without saying that the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,” should be directed by a woman, but more specifically a black woman. In 2014, Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o optioned the work, reuniting with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment company to both produce and star in the film.
The novel follows a Nigerian woman, Ifemulu, as she navigates new American terrain while her lover Obinze experiences life as an undocumented immigrant in London. A transcontinental love story, the book explores nuances of black female sexuality, identity, and relationships through the lens of a brazen, intelligent black female character.
The possibility of an emerging director becoming attached to this project excites me. There are many examples of emerging directors brought on to larger projects and establishing their careers- Think Cary Fukunaga’s remake of “Jane Eyre,” or Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station.” The crop of talented emerging African female directors include the likes of Nikyatu Jusu, Frances Bodomo, and Chika Anadu, whose recent feature film “B For Boy” strikes some of the same cultural chords as “Americanah.” I have no doubt that any one of them would bring a distinct directorial perspective to the material, as evidenced in their respective bodies of work in the short form.
But with the star power and prestige now behind the project, a more established director might be the sole option for the film’s producers. Ava DuVernay is a definite shoo-in for the project, demonstrating a continual engagement with the inner lives of black women in both “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere.” Also “Selma” was produced in part by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which might put her at an advantage for being considered for this project.
Further, after the international success of “Belle,” Amma Asante also seems another strong possibility. The UK-born, Ghanaian director has increased her filmmaking profile significantly since the release of the film and was offered a larger, studio film after “Belle” which was to star Kerry Washington, but both eventually left the project; and Asante is currently filming “Where Hands Touch,” a period romance starring Amandla Stenberg, as the release for “A United Kingdom” (her most recent film which stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike) begins internationally before a USA premiere in early 2017.
Widening the scope, Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu, who explored contemporary Nigerian life in America in both “Restless City” and “Mother of George,” could also take on the project.
But, what if the director isn’t black, or a woman? Will this taint the possibilities for the film? Will the significance of scenes in an African braid-shop be lost? Will the subtleties and commentary about tensions between African immigrants and African Americans come across? One of my favorite sequences in the book takes a place when Ifemelu doesn’t attend a protest that her African American boyfriend Blaine organizes, causing a large cultural rift between them. It’s funny, but also telling, of intercultural division between these communities. How can one truly direct this scene if they know nothing about these types of tensions, or don’t care to know more than what the book offers? There’s a certain cultural currency that goes beyond being interested, or chosen to adapt certain material. We often hear people say: “The book was so much better than the film,” and I’d hate to see that to happen to this adaptation. There are so many ways to channel its literary strengths into a powerful film. Bringing on the right director is the first step.
The team behind 55Media, a UK production outfit headed by Uche Aguh and Dennis Schmitz, have tossed their hat into the ring for the “Americanah” writing and directing jobs that, as of today, may still be open (there have been no confirmed attachments, nor have there been any progress reports since the initial project announcement). 55Media has produced and released what they’re calling a “concept trailer as a campaign to write/direct (Uche Aguh) and handle the cinematography (Dennis Schmitz) of the screen adaptation” of “Americanah.”
Per the filmmakers: “This concept trailer is a direct pitch to the producers of the feature film currently in development, for consideration in the areas of writing and directing and cinematography. This concept was shot over a period of seven days, on location in London, with an exact budget of $0.00.”
Starring in their 3-minute “concept trailer” are: Isio Danniella Esiekpe as Ifemelu; Damola Adelaja as Obinze; Jamila Wingett as Kosi; Uche Aguh as Blaine; Freddie Scobey as Curt; Winston Sarpong as Kayode; Daniel Annoh as Dike (Teenage); Jinmi Onabolu as Dike (Child); and Fatima Hernandez as Ginika.
Watch the 3-minute piece below.
For some context before you watch, the official synopsis for the novel reads as follows: A story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home. As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives. Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.
Watch the 3-minute “concept trailer” below and share your thoughts on whether you’re sold on the effort:
Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Vice, and Bitch Media.