In 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie changed the literary scene with the release of her novel Americanah. Although she had several books published before this time, this novel has been the most popular. On its surface, Americanah is a love story, where two people separated by distance, culture, and time struggle to maintain their relationship. Looking deeper, the novel tells a much bigger story about the struggles that many immigrants face: identity management, culture shock and loneliness. Each perspective tells stories that so many of us, particularly in the African Diaspora, know too well. The book also explores the unique identity challenge that so many of us face: the heightened awareness of blackness that comes from moving into a society where race is often the focal point of differentiation between groups. This heightened awareness brings forth a lot of questions about who we are, and how we fit into our new environment. If you haven’t read the novel, you must. It’s a moving, and very insightful experience.
Although the film adaptation is still in its infancy stages, recent developments have some profound implications. Lupita Nyong’o and David Oleyowo have signed on to star in the film, and bring exposure to the African immigrant experience. The simple association of these names with the film makes me optimistic that new audiences will gain insight into the African immigrant experience, and see the beauty of our similarities and our differences. As excitement for the film grows, we as consumers and as community members have a responsibility to follow through. The media has very little representation of the vast experiences of people of color. By supporting this film (and the novel), we have the opportunity for us to demand greater representation of our experiences, our struggles, and our triumphs. Furthermore, it gives us the opportunity to create dialogue surrounding issues of identity, and the relationship between Africans and African-Americans. And most importantly, it gives way for other contemporary writers, filmmakers, and artists whose exposure is contingent on the growing demand of their art.
As we wait for the film, I would encourage you to read the novel (and Adichie’s other novels). I would also encourage you to take time to find the writers, actors, and artists that you haven’t heard of. We have the opportunity to uplift them, and provide visibility to the breadth of our own experiences, and the experiences of others who don’t have a platform, or a voice. We have that power, and we have the responsibility to use it.