Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of two well-to-do sisters whose lives are radically changed due to the events of the Nigerian-Biafran War. The film is adapted from Chimamanda Adichie's 2006 book of the same name; the title refers to the rising yellow sun depicted on the short-lived Biafran flag.
Olana (Thandie Newton) moves in with her lover Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) while her sister Katienne (Anika Noni Rose) takes up a new business position and falls in love with an Englishman named Richard. Their lives are separate, but intertwined; their relationship with each other as complicated at their relationships with their partners. Dinner parties and dancing join family rows and political discussions.
Then the war starts. The two sisters each deal with the conflict in their own way, their relationship already strained; the war brings them closer together but also pushes them apart.
The Nigerian-Biafran war began on the 6 of July 1967 and continued until 15 January 1970. It was caused by tensions between the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Fulani people of Nigeria, which ultimately lead to two coups, the war, and hundreds of thousands of deaths. The film is littered with the reality of the war, with real-life broadcasts, footage, and newspaper articles featured throughout building the timeline of the war. While Half a Yellow Sun is not based on real life characters, the historical events are true.
Unfortunately the film fails to explore the complex relationships between the characters, and indeed the complexity of many of the characters themselves. This is one of the downsides of adapting books to film. Half of a Yellow Sun tells a very important story--depicting many of the horrors of the Nigerian-Bifran war, and the way that it tore apart the lives of both rich and poor--but it is not quite the same story as Adiche's novel.
Half a Yellow Sun is a worthwhile film to watch, not just because of solid efforts from the entire cast, but also because it tells an important story of this period of Nigerian history. Often African stories are told through a foreign lens, but the film is written by a Nigerian-American writer and directed by a Nigerian director.
If you have read, and loved, the book Half a Yellow Sun is an opportunity to watch Adichie's story come to life. If you haven't read the book, go read it, but the film is definitely worth seeing.