Black and beautiful

2014-11-19 13:45

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I finally got to watch Half of a Yellow Sun, the movie based on the celebrated novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I knew the film adaptation would not live up to the luscious book.

The movie only sifts through the racial and class politics, and the commentary on corruption.

One of the central characters, the 1960s Biafran War, was a seminal moment in Nigerian history. But like rich, textured drapes, it only forms a colourful backdrop.

It’s worked seamlessly into the plot. It does not inject itself violently into the lives of the central characters as you would imagine of a civil war.

But that’s okay. I’ve been hunting down Half of a Yellow Sun to indulge in another elemental core to the story, the romance.

And to watch the main female characters – Olanna (Thandie Newton) and her twin sister, Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) – being loved to distraction. Olanna is loved by the fiery “revolutionary” Odenigbo and Kainene by Richard, the British expat.

The two men desire and lust after the sisters, drawn to their beauty and intellect, and are committed to them until the end.

It’s not a common feature of Hollywood movies to have black women at the centre of a love story.

Black actresses are rarely the ones from whom the camera and the audience can’t avert their gaze, the ones who deserve adoration and adulation, for whom men will do the impossible. This has been the preserve of white women.

Thandie Newton (left) and Anika Noni Rose in Half of a Yellow Sun, the movie based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

In Half of a Yellow Sun, as in the book, the plot revolves around the independent, spirited, beautiful and smart sisters. They are black and African – just like me.

People who do not understand white privilege will call me frivolous. But you will be deluding yourself on the extent to which beauty has been manipulated as a tool of racial politics for white supremacy – it’s been clear to me since I was old enough to like boys.

For as long as I’ve loved movies and could hire my own, I’ve sought films where black women are the objects of affection.

Almost once a year I revisit two classics, Love & Basketball and Disappearing Acts, both by one of my favourite directors, Gina Prince- Bythewood.

It’s not just about black women as sex symbols, but an affirmation that we also inspire love and passion – that it’s as natural and common as we see it in our own lives.

Black love stories are generally hard to find, but it’s getting easier because of the popularity of TV series (thank you Shonda Rhimes) and the democratising effect of the internet.

If you haven’t yet, you should watch The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Then follow it up with the web series from Black and Sexy TV, like Hello Cupid, The Couple and Roomieloverfriends. They are organic love stories with a mainly black cast of all shades and hair variations.

Black and Sexy TV does not have the militancy of a Spike Lee film, which declares and demands “black and beautiful”. Its defiance is in saying that black women are lovable, worthy of celebration and being fawned over. That it’s as natural as the air you breathe.

“And that’s a fact,” as Nina Simone said in the song To Be Young Gifted And Black.

I’m looking forward to Prince-Bythewood’s new movie, Beyond the Lights, to see a hot Nate Parker save the beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw from jumping off a building.

As he does the impossible, holding her with one hand while she dangles below, he says three affirming words – three times. “I see you. I see you. I see you.”

It’s about time.

Follow me on Twitter @joonji

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