The trailer for Biyi Bandele’s adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun looks promising. I’m willing to bet on its box office success. A few weeks ago, Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company bought the rights for Shinning Girls, a crime thriller written by South African Sci-fi writer, Lauren Beukes. Is this a trend that will last? Will more African novels find their way to the silver screen?
We have to begin thinking about what this would mean for the contemporary African literary scene. I am optimistic about the creative and financial energy that such a change will bring. Imagine all the other novels in the African canon that could be adapted for film. I’m just dreaming here but imagine that someone does with the Palmwine Drinkard what Peter Jackson did with Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring. Finally, we could have the sort of film that an epic story like Things Fall Apart deserves. We would literally be able to re-imagine our world and ourselves in a way that no other generation of Africans were able to do.
I know that the unspoken rule is not to talk about money when it comes to African novels. We are never to ask how profitable they are. We are just supposed to pontificate on their literary merits. Still, we don’t need a soothsayer to tell us that the industry is cash-starved. How many African J. K. Rowlingses have you met? African novels make bestseller lists, but my guess is that they’ve never really ever sold those types of numbers that bring in the real cheese. Film adaptation is one way to sweeten things up a bit. Happy publishers and happy authors mean more writing, more stories, and a stronger publishing infrastructure.
Lastly, how would responding to the possibility of a film or TV adaptation affect the way African novelists write? Would it not be nice if having to imagine not just a literary but also a popular film-going audience made African novelists less stodgy and serious?
Question: if you were a movie producer, what African novel would you select for adaption?
Watch the Trailer for Half of A Yellow Sun. It premiers at the 2013 Toronto International Film August 20.