Page to Screen Possibilities for Lupita Nyong'o's Adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah'
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Page to Screen Possibilities for Lupita Nyong'o's Adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah'


A hair-braiding salon can be a fascinating place.

Between itchy scalps and painful braids, there are stories of migration, connection,

and division amongst its braiders and patrons. In her third novel, “Americanah,” renowned author Chimamanda

Ngozi Adichie brings this setting to life, using it as connective tissue for a

highly engrossing diasporic story of a young, self-assured Nigerian woman named

Ifemelu who emigrates to the United States from Nigeria to complete her college

education, only to discover what it means to be “black” in America, what it

means to be a black immigrant in America, and how these worlds collide and

merge in everyday life.  

The African braid shop is one manifestation of that convergence-

a place where Senegalese and Malian women stand in sticky-hot heat, taking

requests from a number of different patrons- a giddy white girl, a young black

American woman whom they gossip about when she leaves, and an irritated

Ifemelu, all representing layers of racial commentary, and serving as platforms

for Ifemelu’s experiences in Nigeria and America as she prepares to return home

after years in the US. Through this shifting narrative, we meet memorable

characters- Ifemelu’s youthful Aunty Uju who bears a child for a corrupt Nigerian

general, a black American academic named Blaine whom Ifemelu meets on a fateful

train ride, a white, upper-crust love interest named Curt whom Ifemelu meets

while working as a nanny for a rich, white family, and most importantly, Obinze,

her first love and confidante, a highly inquisitive man who married the wrong


At its core, Americanah

is an expansive love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, which also goes into careful

detail of his life as an undocumented immigrant in London as Ifemelu explores

her newfound American identity. Viewed as a place of opportunity and refuge

when they were kids, America becomes something very different to them as their

lives diverge. 


So, how would the novel translate to the screen? 

With the

recent news that Lupita Nyong’o has optioned the novel to adapt for the screen, one question is already off the table: Who would play Ifemelu? I

can’t think of an actress I’d want more in this role. Ifemelu inhabits a

brazen, unapologetic demeanor that is often absent from female characters in

film and literature. She is a feminist/activist for the digital age, calling

out things and people in her popular blog about race in America. This blog is

one of the many exciting areas of this novel, which both tracks the emergence

of blogging in pop culture, and serves as a sounding board for Ifemelu.

The length of the book is another consideration. At almost 500

pages, it has an epic quality that lends itself to cinema. The narrative is grand

and sweeping in a way that mirrors other powerful adaptations like “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Namesake.” As in the book, the film

would be held together nicely by the African braid shop, and could utilize repeated

flashbacks to orient the audience to Ifemelu and Obinze’s journeys in Nigeria,

America, and London.  While voiceover is

a highly contested device, it could work wonders as the narrative shifts

between different worlds and perspectives. It would also be exciting to hear

the blogs spoken over some scenes. The book is almost written with these cinematic

considerations in mind, and there’s a certain narrative grounding that the braid

shop and other recurring locations offer. They are specific layers of the greater

discussion on race and culture that Adichie initiates in Ifemelu’s character,

and her relationship with Obinze.

But like all adaptations, some scenes and characters wouldn’t

make it into the final film and instead of spoiling the book for those who

haven’t read it, I’ll leave it to you to determine who would be left out. But

there are certain characters who’d definitely make the cut. Blaine, for

example, is a complex love interest who could come alive in the form of . Obinze is another textured black male character who could be played

by a newcomer or a more known actor like David Oyelowo or Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Other characters, like Aunty Uju, her son Dike, and Ifemelu’s friend Ranyinudo

will provide ample opportunities for the rising crop of Nigerian and African

actors here and abroad- Danai Gurira and Adepero Oduye instantly come to mind. Michael

B. Jordan

Aside from casting and structure, the potential adaptation could definitely spur a much-needed dialogue between black Americans and

African immigrants that considers some of the long-standing tensions between the

groups, perhaps fostering diasporic understanding. A recipient of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award, Adichie is skilled in unpacking these tensions using nuance, humor, and irony that never appears heavy-handed or intentional. Of course, many of the elements outlined in this article are dependent on who directs the film. Let’s hope it’s someone who can understand the layered narrative, and honor it visually. Ifemelu and Lupita deserve that.

Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. Visit her website HERE.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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