2013 S&A Highlights - In Consideration Of Film Adaptations Of Chinua Achebe's Novels...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 2, 2014 6:44 PM
6 Comments
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Editor's note: As 2013 ends, and 2014 begins, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 12th of many to come, originally posted on March 23, 2013, 2 days after Chinua Achebe's death. Happy New Year to you all! 

Since news of Chinua Achebe's death yesterday [he died March 21, 2013], I've been on the hunt for any film adaptations of the 5 fiction novels he wrote; and, not surprisingly, there are none! 

But if any of you reading this knows otherwise, please do share. 

What I did discover, however, was that of those 5 novels (Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease, Arrow Of God, A Man Of The People and Anthills Of The Savannah; he's also penned books of short stories, poetry, essays and such, by the way), one of them (Things Fall Apart, likely the work he's most known for), was adapted to screen as a TV mini-series in 1987, on Nigerian TV by the Nigerian Television Authority).

It was directed by David Orere, and starred Nigerian veteran actor Pete Edochie as the lead character in the novel, Okonkwo.

And as luck would have it, the entire mini-series is on YouTube! Unfortunately, it's not embeddable, so you'll have to go there to watch.

Chinua Achebe
I doubt that Achebe's death will suddenly inspire interest in adapting his novels to the screen (not that they need to be, by the way). I couldn't find any evidence online that previous attempts had been made - likely not here in the USA, where there just doesn't seem to be very much interest in the worlds Achebe's stories are set, nor in the stories themselves. 

Each is so specific to Achebe's homeland, and although his last 2 novels were set in fictional countries, they closely resemble post-colonial Nigeria. 

As are the themes, most prevalent being the intersection of African tradition (particularly Igbo) and modernity, especially within the context of European colonialism.

Not that these are excuses for why his novels haven't been adapted to film; but rather to suggest that it'll likely take those who are intimately close to/familiar with the stories to actually see an adaptation through.

Although underneath each novel's driving narrative are universal themes of identity, ownership, ambition, free will, masculinity, and more, that an ambitious filmmaker might decide to tackle any of Achebe's novels figuratively, taking some creative liberties with the stories, exploring the themes, setting each work in a completely different world (but with the same relationship dynamics between protagonist and antagonist, creating a similar kind of conflict). 

For example, in the case of Things Fall Apart, it could be a futuristic society - think of a film like Avatar (and so many others like it, that reinforce trite colonialist tropes), minus the white male hero, and told primarily from the POV of the Na'vi

There are a myriad of possibilities!

However, I'd guess that the millions of Achebe fans (given how widely some of his novels have traveled) would prefer literal (or near-literal) translations of his novels to screens, rather than films that are "inspired by."

Of course there are rights issues, in terms of optioning any of his books, that I'm not qualified to comment on. The only film industry entanglement Achebe ever had, that I know of, is his forcing the producers of the 50 Cent film, initially titled Things Fall Apart, to change the name to All Things Fall Apart, in order to avoid audiences making any connections between his seminal, well-known piece of literature, and 50 Cent's movie - an awful movie at that.

It was reported that the producers offered Achebe $1 million to keep the name, but he declined; and thus the name change.

If anyone reading this has ever tried to option, or has optioned an Achebe novel, or is aware of any studio/production company/filmmaker/actor/etc who has ever tried to option, or has optioned an Achebe novel, I'd love to know more, so feel free to email me at obensont@gmail.com. Or post a comment below.

Achebe's is survived by his wife and 3 children, whom I assume now control his estate.

To watch the Nigerian TV Authority's mini-series adaptation of Things Fall Apart, click HERE, as the owner of the account that uploaded the series to YouTube (Media Africa TV), hasn't made the files embeddable. 

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6 Comments

  • Umar Turaki | March 24, 2013 4:06 AMReply

    I personally have a strong attraction to 'Anthills of the Savanna' as a rich source material. I love the characters, so vividly drawn, plus I think it'd make a great political period drama/thriller in the vein of Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory' or even 'The Departed' perhaps. Just spouting here, but there's so many spins you could put on a book like that.

  • Emil B. Garuba | March 23, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    Things Fall Apart was actually adapted into a movie in a 1971 movie directed by Hans Jurgen Pohland and also into a series back in 1997. According to the Internet Movie Database, the 1971 movie is credited as being the first feature film to be shot entirely in Nigeria. Not sure of the validity of that claim but I'm just happy to know Achebe's work transcended the written page and is preserved on screen somewhere. I think a remake is in order :)

  • Tambay | March 23, 2013 7:29 PM

    Thanks Emil. Clearly I didn't look enough. Good to know. I'll have to now see if I can get my hands on the 1971 film.

  • Will | March 23, 2013 1:34 PMReply

    There is a film version of things fall apart on youtube. I canot post the link but I would say the film quality is not great.

  • Will | March 23, 2013 1:36 PM

    whoops that was the TV series :p silly me

  • No | March 23, 2013 1:32 PMReply

    This was a question that I posed yesterday regarding the passing of Achebe on Shadow and Act. So, now we know.

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