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3 Inspiring African Novelists Who Became Filmmakers 

3 Inspiring African Novelists Who Became Filmmakers 

contemporary-african-novelists

Novelists are acknowledged, and sometimes celebrated, for their page-turning descriptions, suspenseful plots, fascinating settings, and relatable characters, all made possible through well-crafted prose. You will likely find novelists at book events talking about their novels, autographing copies, or simply at their desks at home typing or scribbling words. But it is not commonplace to find novelists who break from their preoccupation with prose for a stint behind the camera. It is interesting to see these creative persons bring the merits of their literary talent to bear on the art and science of cinematography, achieving stunning results.

The Senegalese novelist Ousmane Sembène blazed the trail in this regard and was widely regarded as “the father of African film.” He wrote several novels, among which was the 1960 classic, Gods Bits of Wood. He directed several films too, becoming the first black African to make a film. This is perhaps an indication that the fields of literature and filmmaking aren’t as wide apart as some think. Here are three contemporary African novelists who, following in the footsteps of Ousmane Sembène, have ventured into filmmaking, producing outstanding movies in addition to their well-received books.

Discover these inspiring African novelists who became filmmakers…

#1. Biyi Bandele

Photo: @biyibandele/Instagram

Biyi Bandele (born Biyi Bandele-Thomas) debuted as a director in 2013 with Half of a Yellow Sun, his movie adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the same name. But before venturing into filmmaking, Bandele wrote the novels, The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond (1991), The Street (1999), and the widely celebrated Burma Boy (2007). Bandele directed Half of a Yellow Sun, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandi Newton, Anika Noni Rose, and John Boyega, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2013 and was released globally in 2014 to wide critical attention.

In 2015, Bandele directed Fifty, a romantic drama movie produced by EbonyLife Films. In a joint production project between Netflix and Ebonylife TV, Bandele directed the 2022 movie, Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman, adapted from Wole Soyinka’s classic play Death and the King’s Horseman. The movie, which premiered at TIFF in 2022, starred Shaffy Bello, Jide Kosoko, and Odunlade Adekola.

In 2013, Biyi Bandele was among the directors of the popular MTV series Shuga, and the Netflix Nigerian Original series Blood Sisters. Sadly, Biyi Bandele died in 2022, aged 54. But his staggering achievements in fiction and filmmaking continue to live in the hearts of many across the world who enjoyed his work.

#2. Tsitsi Dangarembga

Photo: @zeit/Instagram

Zimbabwean writer, Tsitsi Dangaremba is an icon of African literature. With her 1988 debut novel, Nervous Conditions, she became the first black Zimbabwean woman to have published a novel in English. The novel won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region) in 1989, was named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that have shaped the world, and is considered by some as among the best African novels ever written.

Dangaremba also wrote two more novels – The Book of Not (2006) and This Mournable Body (2020), which was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. But Tsitsi Dangaremba is also a big name in the Zimbabwean movie industry, founding her movie productions company (Nyerai Films) and the Women’s Film Festival of Harare. She has produced a slew of critically acclaimed short films and a full-length 1991 movie Neria, which became the highest-grossing movie in the history of Zimbabwe. Her other movies include the highly acclaimed and internationally shown Everyone’s Child (1996), about four siblings whose parents die of AIDS.

#3. Onyeka Nwelue

Photo: @onyeka.nwelue/Instagram

The Nigerian writer Onyeka Nwelue is one of Africa’s most prolific authors, with over 20 books to his name. His debut novel The Abyssinian Boy (2009) won the TM Aluko Prize for Fiction and the Tahir Ibrahim Prize for First Book. His other novels include The Beginning of Everything Colorful (2018) and The Strangers of Braamfontein (2021), which won the ANA Prize for Fiction in 2021 and Best Indie Novel Winner at the Crime Fiction Lover Awards in 2021.

In an eclectic career that combines writing, publishing, filmmaking, and music production, Nwelue is also an Academic Visitor and founder of the James Currey Society at the University of Oxford’s African Studies Centre, and Visiting Scholar at the Centre of African Studies in the University of Cambridge. In 2016, Nwelue’s The House of Nwapa, a documentary film on Africa’s first published female novelist, Flora Nwapa, premiered in Harare.

His Igbo-language film, Agwaetiti Obiuto, an adaptation of his novella Island of Happiness, received enormous recognition, winning Best Feature Film by a director at the 2018 Newark International Film Festival, and the Ousmane Sembène Award for Best Film in an African Language at the 2018 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).

The accomplishments of these novelists in filmmaking are outstanding. We can’t wait for more novelists to follow in Ousmane Sembène’s footsteps, making movies.

Featured image: @biyibandele/Instagram 


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