Photos credited to CNA’s Team.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hosted Lupita Nyong’o in a private dinner in Lagos, attended by notable personalities in Nigerian entertainment. The event was part of Lupita’s second visit to Nigeria in preparation for the Americanah TV series adaptation, in which she will star as Ifemelu. The series, which has been ordered by HBO Max with Danai Gurira as showrunner and Chinonye Chukwu as director for the first two episodes, will also star Uzo Aduba as Aunty Uju, Zachary Momoh as Obinze, and Corey Hawkins as Blaine.
Chimamanda and Lupita wore near-matching outfits by the Lagos-based womenswear designer Imad Eduso: Lupita in purple, with silver shoes and braids by Zubi, and Chimamanda in shiny green, with blue sandals by TNL designs.
Among the guests were the Nollywood actors Richard Mofe-Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva, Nse Ikpe Etim, Omoni Oboli, and Dakore Egbuson; the musicians Femi Kuti, D’banj, Flavour, Omawumi, Waje, and Seun Kuti; the writers and publishers Lola Shoneyin and Eghosa Imasuen; the media entrepreneur Chude Jideonwo; the comedians Chigurl and Bovi; and the actress and singer Onyeka Onwenu, who was given a shoutout in Americanah and played Mama in the Half of a Yellow Sun film. They were all gifted with Narrative Landscape Press’ ankara-bound copies of Americanah.
“It’s such a pleasure to be here, and to get this kind of very personal introduction to Nigeria,” Lupita said, after Chimamanda’s introduction. Her first visit in 2018, to Nsukka and Enugu in Eastern Nigeria, had been quiet on purpose. “I’m here to soak in as much as I can about Nigeria in preparation to play the incredible character Chimamanda wrote that is Ifemelu.”
Lupita had pre-ordered Americanah and read it in the month it came out, April 2013. She had just graduated from the Yale School of Drama and 12 Years a Slave, her star-making film debut, had not been released. She had previously read Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun and then put Chimamanda on her Google Alert.
“I wept, many times, because I felt that she had captured my experience being an immigrant in America and done so with such specificity to the Nigerian experience,” she said. “In that specificity she had captured my experience even though I am from Kenya. I just felt seen in the book. Her characters are so actable.”
Lupita saw in the book’s acknowledgements that she and Chimamanda had a mutual friend in the late great Binyavanga Wainaina. Binyavanga sent an email Lupita had written to Chimamanda. “And of course she never wrote back to me,” Lupita said, laughing.
After 12 Years a Slave came out in 2013, Lupita was at the Toronto Film Festival and decided to attend the premiere of Half of a Yellow Sun, which starred her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor. “I walked up to her and she said, ‘I didn’t know who you were until I saw that dress that you wore yesterday,'” Lupita said, “and that just proves how much she loves fashion.”
“I grew up watching many things about Africa,” Lupita continued, “foreign things about Africa, but they were always with Africa as the backdrop. One of the things I feel privileged to do is to bring specificity to the African story. I’m a far cry from Nigerian and you“—she said with humourous emphasis—“all are very specific people.” She wanted the series to be shot in Nigeria. “There is no substitute for this place,” she said. For the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda’s only condition had also been that it be shot in Nigeria.
“I’m here learning Igbo, which might as well be Mandarin,” Lupita joked, “and Pidgin as well, because if I sabi Pidgin,” at which point the audience laughed. She was learning the Igbo numeral system and had mastered counting from one to ten. When she told Chimamanda’s cousin that she is learning Igbo, the response was: “That’s not gonna help you.” Lupita laughed. “One thing that I love about Nigerians is how honest you are,” she said.
“As I carry on in preparing for this role, I’m going to go in my little cave as an actor, but I go in there really, deeply appreciating the warm welcome that I have received, the honesty that you continue to express, and I hope that we will come here and make a kick-ass show.” She ended with an Igbo greeting: “Daalu.”
“I am so proud of you,” Onyeka Onwenu is seen telling Chimamanda and Lupita in the video on Chimamanda’s Instagram, holding their hands. “This is my payback. I don’t care about anything else. I know I can retire now.”
Here’s a video from Channels TV.
Head to Bella Naija for more photos.