I think it goes without saying that the film adaptation of
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,”
should be directed by a woman, but more specifically a black woman. In 2014, Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o optioned the work, reuniting with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment company to both produce
and star in the film.
The novel follows a Nigerian woman, Ifemulu, as she
navigates new American terrain while her lover Obinze experiences life as an
undocumented immigrant in London. A transcontinental love story, the book
explores nuances of black female sexuality, identity, and relationships through
the lens of a brazen, intelligent black female character.
The possibility of an emerging director becoming attached to
this project excites me. There are many examples of emerging directors brought
on to larger projects and establishing their careers- Think Cary Fukunaga’s
remake of “Jane Eyre,” or Ryan
Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station.” The crop
of talented emerging African female directors include the likes of Nikyatu
Jusu, Frances Bodomo, and Chika Anadu, whose recent feature film “B For Boy” strikes some of the same cultural chords as “Americanah.” I have no doubt that any one of them would bring a distinct directorial
perspective to the material, as evidenced in their respective bodies of work in
the short form.
But with the star power and prestige now behind the project,
a more established director might be the sole option for the film’s producers. Ava
DuVernay is a definite shoo-in for the project, demonstrating a continual
engagement with the inner lives of black women in both “I Will Follow“ and “Middle of
Nowhere.” Her last feature film, “Selma,” was produced in part by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which might put her at an advantage for being considered for this project.
Further, after the international success of “Belle,” Amma Asante also seems another
strong possibility. The UK-born,
Ghanaian director has increased her filmmaking profile significantly since the
release of the film and was offered a larger, studio film after “Belle” which was to star Kerry Washington, but both eventually left the project, and Asante is currently wrapping up “A United Kingdom” with David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.
Widening the scope, Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu, who
explored contemporary Nigerian life in America in both “Restless City“ and “Mother of
George,” could also take on the project.
But, what if the director isn’t black, or a woman? Will this
taint the possibilities for the film? Will the significance of scenes in an
African braid-shop be lost? Will the subtleties and commentary about tensions
between African immigrants and African Americans come across? One of my
favorite sequences in the book takes a place when Ifemelu doesn’t attend a
protest that her African American boyfriend Blaine organizes, causing a large
cultural rift between them. It’s funny, but also telling, of intercultural
division between these communities. How can one truly direct this scene if they
know nothing about these types of tensions, or don’t care to know more than
what the book offers? There’s a certain cultural currency that goes beyond
being interested, or chosen to adapt certain material. We often hear people
say: “The book was so much better than the film,” and I’d hate to see that to happen
to this adaptation. There are so many ways to channel its literary strengths
into a powerful film. Bringing on the
right director is the first step.
Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Vice, and Bitch Media.