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. Earlier this summer, Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o optioned the work, and will be 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 upcoming 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 has reportedly been offered a larger, studio film as her next project. 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.