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Listen Now: S&A Podcast w/Ashley Akunna, The Creator Of The Petition Against Casting Thandie Newton In “Half Of A Yellow Sun”

Listen Now: S&A Podcast w/Ashley Akunna, The Creator Of The Petition Against Casting Thandie Newton In "Half Of A Yellow Sun"

Yesterday’s live S&A podcast was a HOT one!  We kicked things off with a very “heated,” but insightful conversation with Ashley Akunna, the creator of the petition against Thandie Newton‘s casting for the film adaptation of the popular novel Half Of A Yellow Sun. She explained her reasonings for developing the petition as well as informed us about the filmmakers very revealing response to it.  Take a listen and tell us, do you think she’s correct?  Is this petition an effective way to deal with “colorism” in films?

Following that, we acknowledged the untimely death of Whitney Houston and what her legacy will be.  Then, we briefly discussed what the Golden Globe win could mean for Idris Elba as well as finally gave some Oscar predictions.  You might be surprised at our picks!

You can listen below or to download the complete episode go HERE.  Remember, join us next Sunday at 4:00pm/ET for another S&A live podcast!

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You weak, spineless people talking about how we shouldn't challenge black film-maker and/or suggesting that we should just be happy the film is being made are disgusting. Pure cowardice. The petitioner has a valid point. A woman who is truly representative of the Nigerian ethnicity AND phenotype should have that role. There are white Nigerians. I guess those of you against the petition would be just fine having a white Nigerian who looks like Angelina Jolie play the role as well, since phenotype doesn't matter and its all about getting "butts in the seats". Pure idiocy.


If the argument for Thandie Newton's removal is solely based on phenotypical accuracy, then it's quite flawed. But if it's based on a larger concern for more Nigerian representation in Nigerian-focused films, then that's a much more plausible argument.

The phenotype argument doesn't hold much weight because no one group of black people look mostly like one type. I'm a 100% Igbo woman myself, born in Nigeria and almost all of my family is still living there. My brother has skin that is lighter than some of my white American friends; my mom and sister have the same skin complexion as Thandie Newton; I am just a shade or two darker than Thandie Newton. My family's features range from thin lips to voluptuous curves; I have cousins who are darker than Idris Elba. My point is, Igbo people look very different.

Now, I do think a Nigerian woman should have played Thandie Newton's role. This is because I have cultural stock in seeing, not just a black person playing the role, but an actual Nigerian playing a Nigerian; it'll mean a lot to me to see my country, my people represented, because seeing someone on screen with my skin complexion is not always enough for me to feel connected to them; Growing up, I wanted at least one person or two who shared similar cultural histories and questions as myself.

As I'm listening to the first half of the podcast, I was hearing the cultural dissonance in the conversation: although Ms. Akunna was focusing more on phenotype, it sounded like she had a lot of cultural pride and wanted her West African heritage to be represented on screen. I empathize.

Conversely, it sounded like some of the hosts were looking at representation through a much more general lens, through a "black" lens, as opposed to a more specific one. I don't think this cultural dichotomy was communicated very well, if at all, but it's definitely something I picked up on, and can possibly lend a more complicated perspective on Ms. Akunna's argument.


Someone needs to start a petition and have this idiot removed from society, I'm too busy.

get these nets

I thought the sis had a completely legitimate issue with the film and the casting.

If you are telling a story, there should be steps taken to make the story authentic.

I just laughed my way through Red Tails hearing some of the WORST Southern accents since Jason's Lyric.

There's a set of facial and physical features that make up the Igbo "phenotype"..more than likely there is an Igbo accent when speaking English (partially due to their original tongue).

film is not going to ring true for many people unless Thandie does a phenomenal job.


I don't think it's wise to challenge black filmmakers making films of the African diaspora when it comes to their casting choices, as reflected in this conversation. It's not good for independent black cinema. Challenging filmmakers who can finance a film from their own pockets, i.e. Tyler Perry, is one thing. Challenging one who is obligated to doing all they can do to get back their investor's money is a whole different topic. Thandie Newton isn't a box office draw but she is a name that Hollywood and the European film community recognize. This can lead to distribution deals. A big CAN because nothing is guaranteed when you consider the "Winnie" situation. Casting an Ibo or someone of the like means casting a complete unknown to the cinema world (unless you get Viola Davis), and a black filmmaker making a black film should seriously think twice before PURPOSELY doing this. The Nigerian actress mentioned is a big name to Nollywood fans but filmmakers are hoping to bank on a much larger audience to pay people back. In other words, she isn't a name really and won't get African-American butts in the seats. If the film is great without a name, it may find a company hustling to get it seen. But it's so dicey. You just never know. The best thing a filmmaker can do is give a good college try to get name talent in their films. It shows he/she is looking out for the money people who are supporting his/her artistic endeavor. That's the least they can do, and casting Thandie Newton shows that the filmmaker is doing his job. And if the filmmaker fails, then at this he/she tried. The only people that should be challenged at this juncture are the audiences of black films. The numbers show that when a black film comes out with unknown black actors the film fails at the box office, UNLESS it is made for 500k and under. Just look at the numbers if you don't believe me. For some reason, the audience for these films stay home. Maybe if audiences challenged themselves to come out for black theatrical releases with unknown talent, the numbers will support a filmmakers decision to go with unknowns ever so often. In the end, we're not in the position to challenge black filmmakers this way YET. Let's have a few more consistent commercial, critical and cultural successes first, get some respect in Hollywood, instill confidence in International audiences with great cinema, gain the power to get our films green-lit more often… THEN pose the challenge. Just the two cents of a black indie film producer/director who is presently in the trenches right now.


It makes me really sad to see black men trying their hardest to find any small little technicality to see to it that their black woman does not get represented… What is with the self hatred within our community? The guy playing "devil's advocate" sounded like such a self hater. This woman looks nothing like an Igbo woman. It's obviously and right in front of our faces. People act as if this does not happen everyday.. Like we can't turn on a music video and see only biracial and latina women. Why do our men never defend us? It just makes me so sad. I can't imagine the pain that this girl is going through.


Akunna made a strong argument IMO. Seriously, guys, Danny Boyle as an A-list director? He wasn't A-list until the success of "Slumdog Millionaire". No one was selling that particular film to the masses by promoting his name (its not as if "28 Days" was that big of a success). Actually no one expected the film to be a major hit in the first place. It was completely unexpected. And to toss in that remark that the lead in Slumdog was a known commodity because of some buzz-worthy (but hardly mainstream) British show "Skins"? That was absurd. Akunna didn't come across as some unhinged, raving lunatic so why gang up on her over a three minute stretch? She was absolutely right about how light skin women are treated compared to women of dark skin. There is no argument here. To suggest that bringing up the complaint will make light skin black women feel defensive or rejected is about as silly as claiming that white women will be terribly affected if someone brings up how they are presented as the standard of beauty in major motion pictures. By the way how is Akunna's feelings regarding this issue any different or worse then all the hangups we as African Americans have regarding the casting choices and directorial choices for any major/important film that tells an African American story? Certainly I didn't agree with everything she said and I must admit I am a huge fan of Thandie Newton. But for the most part I felt Akunna was on point.

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I'm Igbo and I think Akunna's petition is ridiculous. Particularly at this stage of the game. Like Sergio said, this movie is a hard sell. I'm happy it's getting made in the first place. Now… if more Nigerian films are made like this and the casting is STILL 'colorism', then I think Akunna might have a point.

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