This is a big year for Adichie, who will see her “baby” – Half of a Yellow Sun – make its cinematic debut this autumn in a film starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It’s slightly odd to hear her rave about Newton, a friend, playing the part of the Igbo Olanna, given that seconds earlier Adichie was decrying the fact that “the black people who are stars in Hollywood are all light-skinned” and saying she gets “very, very” frustrated that black women are so marginalised on the big screen.
“There’s no dark-skinned woman who is a babe. There just isn’t. The dark-skinned woman, she is the Serious One. She is the Friend. She is the Sassy Girl. She is never the person we root for.” (That said, the film is British-financed and the London-born, bi-racial Newton is British.)
Nigerians are in uproar about the decision, which had nothing to do with Adichie, to cast Newton. “They’re like ‘Ohhhhhhh!’” she admits, but brushes aside their qualms that Newton doesn’t look Igbo: “My brother is lighter than she is.” She is sympathetic about Nigerians wanting a local actress but says film-making is about “who’s good, who has been tested, who can do it well”. I want to add: “And who’s marketable,” but I bite my tongue.