Earlier this year Lupita Nyong'o acquired the rights to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's award-winning 2012 novel Americanah, signing on to star as Nigerian émigré Ifemelu, as well as produce along with Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment. David Oyelowo has also signed on to star as romantic lead Obinze. The book is divine: beautifully written, emotionally complex, swooningly romantic and often bitingly funny. It's also full of razor-sharp insight on immigration and cultural identity, the shifting concept of home, and blackness in America, Nigeria, and Britain.
The project is guaranteed to be a meaty opportunity for Nyong'o and Oyelowo, but is still several steps away from production. Some questions:
1. Should we worry that the project doesn't yet have a script? I'd say no, in part because of my love for the source material, but largely due to the strength of Plan B producing. They've got a respectable filmography, and the last couple years have been a serious hot streak (Moneyball, 12 Years a Slave, Selma). They shouldn't have trouble attracting top-drawer talent. With the right team in place, this could be someone's shot at a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
2. Who should direct? It's only natural that Ava DuVernay's name should come to mind, given her skill with romantic drama and epic political context. It would make hers a 3-for-3 David Oyelowo filmography, and she certainly already has the in with Plan B Entertainment. But since the story is so indivisible from the non-American experience, and so specifically Nigerian in perspective, perhaps a Nollywood director might be a better choice. Perhaps Biyi Bandele, whose adaptation of Adichie's novel Half of a Yellow Sun came out earlier this year to mixed reviews, would be interested in another shot at the author's work?
3. Will Beyoncé help with the movie's PR? When Beyoncé dropped her secret album last year, she gave Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a major profile boost by sampling her TED talk "Everyone Should Be a Feminist on the song "***Flawless", which sent Americanah rocketing up the Amazon sales charts. (To be honest, that's also how I first heard of the book.) Maybe the movie release can be preceded by a tie-in Beyoncé single that samples dialogue from the movie? Harness the power of Bey and you have the makings of a serious box office hit on your hands.
It's impossible not to admire Lupita Nyong'o's initiative and savvy in carving out her career, snapping up the rights to an interesting project herself and then backing that up by attracting major talent and industry clout. No production date is set; join me in hoping that this moves forward smoothly.
Have you read Americanah? Who else do you think should be brought on to the production?