The discussion of race and identity has never been more prominent in the United States. Our diverse nation wants to view, explore and understand what it means to be an American, what it means to be an immigrant, and what it means to live in a post-colonial world. This profound interest catalyzed by an ever increasing immigrant population, and several racially motivated events, is the reason that I propose adapting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah. A 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award winner, one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of the year, and winner of the 2013 Heartline Prize for Fiction, Americanah has captured the attention of readers and critics across the nation. Adichie has gained quite the reputation; millions have viewed the author’s TED Talk on feminism, and she was recently sampled on a very popular Beyoncé song.
Adichie’s novel follows the story of two middle class university students who depart military-ruled Nigeria. The central female character Ifemelu heads to America where her academic status does not save her from grappling with what it means to be black in the United States. The central male character Obinze enters an undocumented life in London. After fifteen years with no contact, the two former lovers reignite their romance in a newly democratic Nigeria. The novel shifts in and out of the characters’ present and past, exploring their experiences with race and identity. Adichie successfully tells a dazzling and encapsulating love story while simultaneously exposing and discussing unpleasant truths about race in the 21st century.
Ifemelu is caught between her Nigerian identity and her American identity. Ifemelu was born into a middle class family and once the conflict in military ruled Nigeria escalated, her father lost his job, causing significant financial tension within her household. This economic catalyst caused Ifemelu to grow up rather quickly. Seeing no reason as to why she should filter herself, young Ifemelu is outspoken, often times getting herself into trouble. Driven to learn and experience, Ifemelu is a bright girl and is always top of her class. Popular among both boys and girls at her university, she is regarded as being very beautiful. Through her college years she stays very comfortable with her appearance, and despite economic and societal challenges, she remains optimistic. Ifemelu is extremely affectionate, protective and loving of the people in her life, especially Obinze.
American Ifemelu is different. American Ifemelu is pessimistic and often submits herself to defeat. She second guesses herself and isolates herself from the people around her. Unsure of her place in America, she has her guard up and is selective about whom she chooses to express her love with. American Ifemelu still retains some of her drive and focus. She is a strong student and wants desperately to succeed, working hard at the jobs given to her. She is prideful and determined, refusing to depend on anyone’s handouts. Aggressive yet sweet, vulnerable yet impervious, fiercely independent yet always yearning for companionship, Ifemelu’s personality is contradictory and consistently shifting.
Obinze is reserved but highly intelligent. Obinze is committed and responsible. He always attempts to do what is right and has immense respect for the women around him. With Ifemelu he never pressures her to have sex, and is consistently faithful and unselfish. Even at the cost of losing her to America, he encourages her to go because he feels that is the best place for her to receive an education. The UK Obinze is introspective, neurotic and prideful. When he is unable to do much more than clean toilets he finds he cannot call his mother because he feels that he has shamed her. The adult Obinze is very thoughtful. Despite not agreeing with his wife’s actions or her need for attention, he does everything he can to keep her happy. Adult Obinze is very successful and rich, but he continues to be modest and helpful to the people around him. He hates the flashy and superficial lifestyle of wealthy Nigerians and refuses to see himself as part of the upper-class.
Race and identity are the two central themes of the novel. Through Ifemelu and Obinze we see race and identity come alive. Throughout the novel each character makes observations that prompt the reader to question and examine their everyday experiences. For example, Ifemelu a Nigerian comes to the US for the first time and is told she is Black, and thus she is treated like a Black-American. Yet Black-Americans call her African and exclude her from their experiences. This may come as a surprise to someone from outside these two minority groups, complicating people’s understanding of the experience of race. Observations of the racial hierarchy and interactions between various immigrant groups from an immigrant perspective provide a different understanding of race and identity, revealing to readers how various people attempt to form or hold onto their identity in the United States.
The film is set in several locations. The most important locations are: Ifemelu’s home in Nigeria, Obinze’s home in Nigeria, the Braid Salon, and Kimberly’s home in Philadelphia. Each location is numbered with the proposed visuals provided at the bottom:
1) Ifemelu’s Home in Nigeria: Her family lives in a medium sized flat that comfortably fits all of them. With beautiful paintings, a nice modern kitchen, comfortable furniture, and neutral colors on the wall, the flat is not fancy but comfortable, and contains everything the family needs.
2) Obinze’s Home in Nigeria: Obinze’s home is nicer than Ifemelu’s and is filled with books. The home is beautifully decorated with high quality items but is not flashy. There is an office for his mother, a high-end kitchen, high quality imported furniture, numerous posters of African political figures, and hundreds of books. Inside Obinze’s room there are posters of American artists, and bookshelves filled with American authors. The room is spacious and blue with a desk and large bed.
3) The Braid Salon: The Braid Salon is set in Trenton, New Jersey. The salon is small, run down and humid. There are a couple worn down chairs with large mirrors behind them. The salon is painted in an orange hue and has a large black television screwed into the wall. There are mannequins with wigs at the back of the salon where they sell artificial hair.
4) Kimberly’s Home: Kimberly, the white woman who employs Ifemelu, lives on a large beautiful estate. Kimberly lives in a large red-bricked home with white pillars and black gates. The front lawn is nicely manicured and there are large gardens in the back with fountains. The inside of the house is all white but each room is decorated with various cultural pieces from around the world. There are Persian rugs, Ethiopian figurines, Asian pieces of art, and various sculptures.
There it sat. Tightly coiled and curled upon the toilet. A giant piece of shit. The biggest piece of shit Obinze has ever seen. Obinze stares at it. Just stares at it for what seems like ages. He cannot move, he cannot breathe, he can just look. The shit stares right back. It is Ifemelu. Ifemelu looking at him. Ifemelu shaking her head in disgust, pitying him. It is his mother. His mother looking at him. His mother with the same broken face she had as he left for the United Kingdom. Left to clean toilets. It is his university. His university looking at him, wondering what went wrong? It is America. America looking at him. He drops the mop and violently slams the stall door, crying while swearing to never come back. His new life is shit.
White woman walks into braid salon and sits down
Kelsey: “Hi! I’m Kelsey! You can braid my hair right? White people hair?”
Mariama: “Yes. We do every kind of hair. Do you want braids or cornrows?”
Kelsey: “I want to look kind of like Bo Derek in that movie? You know that movie 10?”
Mariama: “Yes, I know.”
Kelsey: “So where are you from? Africa right?
Mariama: “Yes I am from Nigeria”
Kelsey: “That’s amazing! I bet it’s beautiful. I am going to Africa in the fall! Congo and Kenya, and I’m going to try to see Tanzania. It is going to be so beautiful I bet.”
Mariama: “Yes it is very beautiful there.”
Kelsey: “Sooooo… I bet business is good!”
Mariama: “It is up and down.”
Kelsey: “But you couldn’t even have this business back in your country, right? Isn’t it wonderful that you get to come to the U.S. and now your kids can have a better life?”
Mariama: “Yes of course.”
Kelsey: “Are women allowed to vote in your country?”
Kelsey: “That’s great!”
She sees Ifemelu and turns to her
Kelsey: “What are you reading?”
Ifemelu: “It may not be the kind of book you would like if you have particular tastes. He mixes prose and verse.”
Kelsey: “You have a great accent where are you from?”
Kelsey: “I wish I could stop in Nigeria For my trip to Africa! I bet its beautiful. Unfortunately I can’t but i’m still super excited. I’ve been reading books to get ready. Everybody recommended Things Fall Apart, which I read in high school. It’s very good but sort of quaint, right? I mean like it didn’t help me understand modern Africa. I’ve just read this great book, A Bend in the River. It made me truly understand how modern Africa works.”
Ifemelu: “That novel is not about Africa at all.”
Kelsey: “Yes it is.”
Ifemelu: “No it is not. It is about Europe, or the longing for Europe, about the battered self-image of an Indian man born in Africa who feels wounded and diminished by not having been born European, a race he elevates because of their ability to create. He turns his imagined personal insufficiencies into an impatient contempt for Africa hoping he could, even for a moment, become European. Its not about the real Africa at all.”
Kelsey: “Oh. Um well, I see why you would read the novel like that.”
Ifemelu: “And I see why you would read it like you did.”
Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter. The Baltimore Riots. The Charleston Shooting. Slavery and the Confederate Flag. Immigration and deportation. America’s issue with race has never been more publically prominent. What was once brushed under the rug is being brought out and openly discussed for the first time. In this new era of interracial marriage, homosexual equality, feminism and income inequality, Americans are willing to engage issues that matter, especially race and identity. There could not be a more appropriate time to make a film that deals with the social issue that divides this nation. Not only would this film be entertaining but it would engage the public in conversation, and create important controversy over the questions it raises. The novel is so impeccably done that we would not need to change much of the source material. The film will stay as close as possible to the source including the dialogue. We would need to flush out the love story, enticing those who may be on the fence while appealing to an older female audience. It will be popular in major cities since those cities serve as diverse cultural hubs. The audience for this film will consist of the Oscar watching indie crowd; those who look for quality over cliché Hollywood elements. In addition, several prominent African Hollywood stars have shown interest in the text, including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. With this kind of star power, high quality story and public interest, we can ride this film all the way through award season.