Biyi Bandele is one of Nigeria’s best known writers and playwright. Born in Kafanchan in Kaduna State, Bandele knew he was born to write from an early age and had developed a healthy appetite for literature after reading the works of other great writers like Chinua Achebe and Charles Dickens.
After studying drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, he moved to London, but that wasn’t always the plan.
The young and talented graduate had been invited to a theater festival in London, he’d barely been in the City for a few weeks and yet was pleasantly surprised to have found himself a publisher for his two unpublished novels. He tells CNN’s African Voices in a recent interview: “I actually came [to London] because I’d been invited to a theater festival … within weeks, I had a publisher, not just in the UK but in Italy and in France and in Germany,” he recalls. “Then I got offered a job to be the literary editor of a weekly Nigerian newspaper in London so I had actually come with absolutely no intention of staying.”
Since then, Bamidele has made a name for himself in the UK arts industry, working with acclaimed director Danny Boyle and directing theater plays including an adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart for which he received critical acclaim.
It would seem that Bandele’s talent knows no bounds as the writer recently got behind the cameras to take on the hefty challenge of directing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of A Yellow Sun.
On why he decided to direct the film, Bandele says he got really weary of watching Africa being portrayed in the negative way we’ve all gotten used to in the west, as though the whole continent is on the brink of hunger and starvation and there’s no ounce of civilization.
Being the master storyteller that he is, Bandele was inspired by this story of a middle class Nigerian family and felt compelled to tell the story, the only way an African would. This was an opportunity to tell an African story the in a way that has hitherto not been seen.
Bandele met the author of Half of A Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, the year she began writing the novel. After reading the novel when it came out, he connected so well with the characters, he knew he wanted to make a film out of it.
He traveled to Nsukka with Chimamanda Adichie to get a feel for the story and to try to convince the author he would do justice to her book. A task at which he obviously succeeded.
Bandele promptly called up fellow Nigerian [descent] and BAFTA winning actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor who signed up to the film even before Bandele had began any writing on the script. Thandie Newton also subsequently bagged the leading actress role in the movie.
The film was shot on location in Tinapa Film Studios, Calabar, amidst some challenges including a typhoid crisis on set, and Bandele developing type II diabetes while filming, but the playwright wouldn’t trade the experience for the world as the writer told how fulfilling an experience shooting in Nigeria was.
Half of A Yellow Sun is one of the most expensive movies ever shot on Nigerian soil, coming in at $8million. An amount that would surely make producers in Nollywood green with envy.
Other notable actors in the movie are Nollywood’s Genevieve Nnaji, American actress Anika Noni Rose, John Boyega and Joseph Mowle.
The film was produced by Andrea Calderwood, a Bafta winning producer whose credits also include The Last King Of Scotland.
If you’ve been watching BET lately, you would have seen the HIV/AIDS awareness series SHUGA, also directed by Biyi Bandele. He was approached by MTV to direct the series which features sultry Nigerian Singer Tiwa Savage.
His task was to develop a series that would capture the attention of the Nigerian/African youth, drawing attention to the realities of living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, a country with the second largest number of people living with the disease in the world.
We really can’t wait to see this super talented Nigerian’s latest work and we wish him all the success in the world. Hopefully, this is just the beginning, next stop, Hollywood.
Half of A Yellow Sun Premieres in UK theatres on the 11th of April. Watch the Trailer here