The last time Olisaeloka visited with me at my house we sat and talked about Nigerian novels; then, somehow, we started talking about Half of a Yellow Sun and its movie adaptation. We both expressed our dismay over the movie’s monumental failure and its inability to replicate or even better that act of literary virtuosity that is the novel. We went on to examine, viscerally, the relationship between the Nigerian novel and the movie industry and obviously came to the conclusion that it is generally poor.
As far as I know the only Nigerian novels that have been adapted to screen are Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Of these, only Things Fall Apart was successful; and this is mainly because of the acting not the Cinematography and other filmographic technicalities which, in my opinion, left much to be desired. Apart from Americanah which was recently optioned for production and Soyinka’s Ake which will be released soon as a movie, within the sphere of my knowledge, no other Nigerian novel has attained the status of a movie. Why is this?
In America, most Hollywood movies are adaptations of books (including novels, short story, biographies, comics, etc). Almost all the foriegn novels I have read in recent years have their movie versions, which I think is a great thing, and most of them are box office successes. And also, as a direct result, the books go on to sell many more copies. I sincerely believe that this trend had not only helped writers but had helped to improve the American movie industry in such a way that their movies began to reflect the socio-political, cultural, and moral issues, sentiments, and ideas peculiar to the country.
In Nigeria it is the other way round. Producers not only come up with mediocre storylines but, also, as if it has become a norm, makes sure that it is poorly produced. This is a place where thousands of dump, stupid movies are made every year with a view to catering to mass patronage, who are to a large extent ignorant; a place where storylines are recycled with a changed cast; and in the end what we have is a situation where movie enthusiasts in the country resort to pleasuring themselves with better made movies from overseas. Of course there are exceptions in this dismal landscape that is Nollywood: directors like Kunle Afolayan, Tunde Babalola, and a few others are doing a lot towards the improvement of the cinematic delivery in Nollywood.
When I was discussing with Olisa that sultry afternoon, he told me that he had always thought what a nice movie Achebe’s No Longer At Ease would make. I totally agree with him. There are many Nigerian novels that would fit perfectly into the big screen. Humphery Nwosu’s A Drop of Mercy which I read years ago under the Drumbeat series is a typical film novel and would make a nice thriller. Novels like Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer and On Black Sisters’ Street; Purple Hibiscus; Uzodimma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation; Nwabuani’s I Do Not Come To You By Chance; Afolabi’s Goodbye Lucille; Biyi Bandele’s Burma Boy; the novels of Seffi Atta, Nnedi Okoroafor, Ben Okri, and many others. I had always thought the deft boxing scenes in The Famished Road would make splendid scenes in a well made movie.
In the South-Eastern part of the country a certain film in which the main character keeps uttering the very dumb phrase, E speakilekwe, an utterly baffling concoction of tongues which roughly translates as Don’t Speak, became the new craze. People crowded in front of film retail shops to watch this film; market women in Onitsha began using the phrase right, left and centre. Overwhelmed by this societal exuberance, I went and saw part of the movie. It turned out to be a very poor comedy whose common intent is to sale fast and equally die fast. This is what Nollywood has turned into: an institution which is rapidly running out of ideas and resorting to silly farcical attempts at comedy.
This lack of ideas in the film industry is exactly what book adaptations are going to bring. They will ensure depth of subject matter and theme which is extremely important in any art form. Any autodidact would wish to see certain books come to live on screen. Since art is synthetic, books shouldn’t stop at being just books. Other branches of art should be brought to bear upon it.
Chimezie Chika studies English in university.
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