Americanah took five years to write. ‘For a long time I’ve wanted to write about two things: a love story that doesn’t apologise for being a love story, in the grand tradition of the Mills & Boon novel; and I also wanted to write about race in America. I hadn’t felt ready until now.’ The title refers to an immigrant who has become Americanised – Ifemelu gets called ‘Americanah’ by her friends. Adichie writes with great affection for her subjects but she is not sentimental. Americanah is a dense story with a very light touch – it moves effortlessly between time frames and countries, making acute political points without haranguing.
Adichie has compared America to ‘a very rich uncle who doesn’t really know who you are, but all the same you can’t help being fond of him’.
‘I like America but it’s not mine and it never will be,’ she says now. ‘I don’t really have a life there. I travel and I speak and I sit in my study trying to write, but in Nigeria I have a life. I go out, I have friends, I feel emotionally invested in what’s happening.’
Last year Adichie was the youngest person to deliver the annual Commonwealth lecture at the Guildhall, and her TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) lecture on national identity, The Dangers of a Single Story, is one of its most popular. She is an eloquent person with big ideas, who is very interested in pan-African politics. ‘The idea of aid as a solution to Africa’s problems is something I don’t agree with at all. When you look at countries that have succeeded, aid didn’t do it. Aid creates dependency.’ She resents how applying for aid has become a job in itself. ‘It’s not looking for money to start a business, it’s writing a proposal so someone gives you money. Nigeria is not like that yet, and I hope we don’t become like that as it’s unhealthy. If we had electricity every day and it was constant and we had good roads and water, people would do things, they are full of initiative.’ It would, she believes, make a huge difference to productivity, self-esteem, motivation. Instead they are plagued by inconsistency in the most basic infrastructure.
‘I am very much a social engineer at heart,’ she says. ‘I love Nigeria and Africa and if you love a place that you know is kind of broken, you want it to be whole. I am always watching. For example, when I have my hair done I am watching the women in the salon, wondering how things could be better for them. The salon has to close at seven because they turn the generator off. And diesel is expensive so what they have to pay to maintain the generator is already taking a lot from what the salon makes, which in turn affects how much the workers in the hair salon are paid.’
At the tail end of 2012 and of their careers, retiring Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the ACHIEVE Act, which would provide legal status to a narrow group of undocumented youth. However, this proposal does nothing to appeal to Latin@s because it provides no real path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Whereas the DREAM Act provides undocumented youth with legal permanent residence and then citizenship, the ACHIEVE Act offers a W-1 visa, which leads to a W-2, and then a W-3, with no direct path to citizenship.
Although Hutchison calls this proposal her version of the DREAM Act, it is not. The core purpose of the DREAM Act, first proposed in 2001, is to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, who are Americans in all ways but one–legal citizenship rights.
The ACHIEVE Act had no chance of passing in the lame-duck session, yet Hutchison and Kyl hope their successors, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), will take it on when the new Senate convenes. They want this bill–not the DREAM Act–to be the basis for negotiations, with “no citizenship” as their bottom line.
This isn’t going to work. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 86 percent of Latinos in the United States believe that migrants to this country–even unauthorized ones–deserve a chance to become citizens. This belief is shared by 72 percent of all Americans. It is the core of true immigration reform; the rest is just bells and whistles.
A path to citizenship is the politically astute route; it is also the only route that is not morally bankrupt.
As I said on the R’s main blog, I think Mira Nair’s guiding filmmaking principle is if you’re brown, grown, and sexy, you need to be in her films. So, I had to giggle when I came across this 2002 interview she did with the Guardian where she lays down her “no lipless actors” rule.
Below is an excerpt from the interview where she not only talks about the rule but also what it was like to work with Denzel Washington on Mississippi Masala.
BG: Mississippi Masala is probably the film closest to me because I have a lot of family down there. But I want to focus on the idea of the child as witness, with the camera looking up from the child’s point of view. Can you tell us a bit about that?
MN: I always like to reveal the fact that the emperor has no clothes. And children are best at that. They teach us how to see the world in that sense. They are without artifice; they see it for what it is. I am drawn to that ruthless honesty. In these films, children give us that way in.
BG: Did the moment where the little girl waves goodbye reflect something for you? Was it a frozen moment in time for you?
MN: I grew up in a very small town which is remote even by Indian standards. I always dreamed of the world. I read a lot and wrote quite a bit. We took great journeys across the country to visit relatives. Our relatives lived very far away because we are Punjabi from North India but my father was East India. We took long car journeys and looking out of the window was all there was. So that probably came from that. I remember in Satyajit Ray’s great film Days and Nights in the Forest also captured the same landscape because he comes from Calcutta, which is a neighbouring place to where I grew up. I remember seeing that in his films. I realised that was something I understood. And of course you use everything that excites you in film. But if I have an obsession at all, it is with hands. I love hands and I love lips. I never cast lipless actors. So Kenneth Branagh, no thank you. It’s a weird thing but I do have these two obsessions.
BG: In Masala there is an issue that I’ve never seen dealt with before, the issue of black and brown - the conflicts and situation. That is very fresh, and goes with you saying you wanted to make cinema that puts black and brown people at the centre.
MN: Well, Mississippi Masala grew out of being an Indian student at Harvard. When I arrived I was accessible to both white and black communities - a third-world sister to the black community and Kosher to the others - yet there were always these invisible lines. I felt that there was an interesting hierarchy where brown was between black and white. Even before Salaam Bombay!, I had wanted to tell this tale. That, along with the irony of Indian racism and the separatist nature of the Indian community in America … I began to read about the weird phenomenon of every southern motel being owned by an Indian, and many of them were exiles from East Africa after Amin had thrown them out.
There is this very cerebral concept: what was it like to be an African, but of Indian skin who believed India to be a spiritual home without ever having been there and to be living in Mississippi? An what if this world collided with that of black American who believed Africa to be their spiritual home, but had also never been there? It must collide through love, because we must sell tickets!
BG: I’m going to ask you a fan’s question. What was it like to work with Denzel Washington?
MN: Well, that was at the beginning of what he was doing, really. We are very good friends and I’m so happy to say that our [Oscar] campaign worked for him this season, a long time coming. He was consummate, he was so easy with the camera. But the one thing that was difficult for him was to be in a stupor of love. I was in a stupor of love, I had just met Mahmoud who I am now happily married to, and I knew what it was like to be in that stupor.
The film came out of that stupor and I really wanted Denzel to be in that stupor. He had done all the nice scenes - being his father’s son and the good boy - but then it came to the love stuff, and I noticed him throwing it away. I couldn’t have it because, as any director will tell you, all you’ve got is that moment. I’m not Woody Allen, I don’t re-shoot.
Now, he had won the [best-supporting actor] Oscar, a month before we begun shooting and although he was not that well known, he was still flavour of the month. So I remember being quite nervous about asking him to “put out”, you know? So I told him that he couldn’t be rational, he just had to go there and be weak-kneed. He was looking at me really suspect. So I said that the point is that if you’re allowing yourself to be totally vulnerable, no defences, then the female audiences will just eat you up …
BG: Oh yeah … !
MN: Spike Lee is a good friend of mine, we used to share editing studios when we were poor - I would work in the morning, he would work in the evening - and I remember him telling me that when I cast Denzel, he was never going to take his shirt off. But then one day we were filming this harmless mechanic scene with Denzel under the car and he had his shirt off!
I told him that he didn’t have to, but he said that it needed it, and by that time he was in a stupor of love, in love with the movie. He was great.
“Additionally while media is rightfully honing in on voter suppression efforts across the country and pushback against these efforts, little attention is paid to the fact that Puerto Rican citizens on the island have no vote in the U.S. presidential election, nor Congressional representation yet are subject to U.S. law. There has been buzz about how this year’s plebiscite is allegedly different from those of years past because of the wording of the option and a two step process, but not much discussion on how no matter how the vote turns out, a Congressional bill would have to be introduced to Congress to change the island’s status. Not one article or post I have seen has mentioned the numerous hearings before the United Nations Decolonization Committee and that committee’s recommendations. There also has been hardly any noise heard within the U.S. media about allegations of electoral fraud within the island. Just like during the 2008 presidential campaign, this year both candidates have made much ado about the influence of the Latino vote by campaigning in Puerto Rico and the media has focused on the participation numbers of voters on the island in the primaries there.”
An African Election director Jarreth Merz on what democracy means and the democratic process itself in Ghana, Africa, and the US. (via africanelection)
Racialicious is thrilled to partner with National Black Programming Consortium (the creative folks bringing Black Folk Don’t and Ask A Muslim to the internet) for this documentary’s public-media debut on October 1, 2012. We’re looking forward to on- and offline convos about the 2008 election in Ghana, democracy, colonialism, policy, and trans-Atlantic implications for the 2012 US election. Join us!
With the Latino electorate emerging more and more as a key constituency, the dust-up over this commercial highlights the tightrope both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will have to walk in engaging with not only this diverse array of voters, but the media outlets they follow.
In the ad, Univision News anchor Jorge Ramos is shown saying, “Close to 46 million Americans do not have health insurance.” The ad–not Ramos himself–goes on to tout Obama’s Healthcare Reform Bill. The commercial is part of the opening salvo in a $4 million advertising campaign pitched toward Spanish-speaking households.
And here’s the English translation:
"A few hours ago the Obama reelection campaign aired an ad using my image and that of Noticias Univisión. I want to make clear that I reject the use of my likeness and that of Noticias Univisión in any election campaign. We have let the Obama campaign and the White House know, and we want to leave a public notice of our disagreement. We have always defended our journalistic integrity and will always continue to do so."
None of this, by the way, should excuse the Obama administration from having to answer for its own policies regarding immigrants. And Ramos is justified in objecting to his likeness and reputation being used as ad fodder–when your network has in your target audience, not to mention an English-language sister network on the way, you can send that kind of message. Both Obama and Romney should be listening intently from here on out.