Needless storm over Half of a Yellow Sun

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaThe National Film and Video Censors’ Board (NFVCB) has again explained why it has not certified the movie adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling civil war novel Half of a Yellow Sun (HOAYS) fit for Nigerian consumption. In a statement released by its head of corporate affairs, Caesar Kagho, in Abuja on Wednesday, June 18, the board said it had communicated to the film’s distributor via a May 27, 2014 letter that “some clearly stated objectionable aspects of the movie” should be expunged or edited. The management of the board, he said, was yet to receive a reply as at the time the statement was released. According to Kagho, the reply, when received, MIGHT facilitate further regulatory actions as might be deemed necessary.

Citing Section 36 (1) (b) of NFVCB Enabling Law ACT 1993, CAP N40 LFN 2004, the board argued that it is imperative that “a decision on a film shall ensure that such a film is not likely to undermine national security.” And for those who think HOAYS is being singled out because of bad belle, Kagho explained that “the actions of the board are a routine procedure that is not specific to any production but primarily taken within the ambit of the law. It is underpinned by the superior logic of safeguarding overall public interest.”

Those familiar with the history of the NFVCB will readily remember 2002 when under Roseline Odeh, the board slammed Tunde Kelani’s Agogo Eewo with a NTBB (Not to Be Broadcast) tag. Some scenes in the movie were deemed too fetish and capable of offending Nigerians’ sensibility. Whatever harm Odeh and her people saw in that film at that time obviously existed in a few minds at the board giving the fact that even the film’s harshest critics passed it fit for general viewing.

Having passed through the valley of the shadow of censorship before, it came as no surprise that Kelani has called the current director general of the board, Patricia Bala, to “release” the film. In a message he posted on Twitter earlier this month, the man popularly referred to as TK appealed to the “DG of the National Film and Video Censors’ Board to release the film Half of a Yellow Sun to the Nigerian public without further delay…Nigeria cannot afford another round of negative press and global condemnation before taking action. Please madam let’s do the right thing at the right time.”

Actor Segun Arinze was not that pacific. Nothing short of Bala’s resignation would soothe his bruised nerve. Hear him: “Please tell Madam Patricia Bala to release the movie Half of a Yellow Sun. She has no reason to hold on to the movie. She has no right to censor the movie, only to classify it. She saw it in Canada and even partnered with the producers in Canada during the premiere. What she is doing now is an embarrassment to (the) government and a big insult to our dear industry, Nollywood. We are not in a military regime. She should kindly resign.”

Director of the movie, Biyi Bandele, had long dismissed the board’s argument that HOAYS might provoke conflicts in a country already witnessing uprising in parts of its northern flank. He reminded Bala that she was “gracious enough to tell us after the (Toronto) screening how much she loved the movie and that “at no point did she express any reservations about the contents of the film.” The Yoruba-born director who grew up in the north added: “Our country wouldn’t be divided more than ever today if we had actually dealt with the root causes of the (Biafra) war, instead of just pretending it had never happened. This film is actually a cautionary tale – I don’t think anybody is going to watch it and be incited to war or division.” None of the people – majority of whom are Nigerians – that have seen the film since its Toronto premiere, he said, “came out of the cinema thinking that they had just seen a film that would incite anyone to violence. If anything, more than once, I’ve been accosted by cinema-goers – some Nigerian, but really, people of all races who have been profoundly moved by the experience of watching the film.”

With a running time of 1 hour, 53 minutes, HOAYS is rated R for violence and sexual content by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The difference between here and over there is that the authorities in Nigeria won’t classify it as it is. At least Odeh gave Agogo Eewo the NTBB rating instead of banning it in everything but name.

In a country where security agencies clamp down on everybody from the media to peaceful #BringBackOurGirls campaigners in the name of national security, the NFVCB could not come up with a more creative excuse for delaying approval for HOAYS. If soldiers can seize hard copies of newspapers to prevent certain stories from reaching the public in this age of online publishing and social media, it is no wonder we still have an NFVCB that does more censoring than classifying.

If it is true that the movie was indeed sent to Abuja two weeks before its planned April 25 premiere in Nigeria, then May 27 is rather late to officially tell the distributor about “some clearly stated objectionable aspects of the movie”. The NFVCB we know clears film within hours of submission if the right libation is done.

We should have been writing about how well Bandele and his crew told the story of events in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970 through HOAYS. The discourse should have been whether the production is gripping epic or a melodramatic soap opera with more stars than star quality. All we are having now is the rather needless argument about classification and censorship.

That is what happens in a country that clamps down on creativity.