Biyi Bandele, the pioneering Nigerian novelist, playwright and filmmaker who directed the 2013 adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandiwe Newton, has died. He was 54.
Bandele died Sunday in Lagos, Nigeria, his daughter Temi Bandele announced on Facebook. No cause of death was given.
“Biyi was a prodigiously talented writer and filmmaker, as well as a loyal friend and beloved father,” she wrote. “He was a storyteller to his bones, with an unblinking perspective, singular voice and wisdom which spoke boldly through all of his art, in poetry, novels, plays and on screen. He told stories which made a profound impact and inspired many all over the world. His legacy will live on through his work.”
Bandele was completing postproduction on his latest movie, The King’s Horseman, a drama inspired by the acclaimed anti-colonial play Death and the King’s Horseman, from Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka.
The film, which will have its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, was produced by Mo Abudu’s Nigerian studio EbonyLife Films for Netflix and is billed as the first Yoruba-language feature to premiere at TIFF.
Bandele also co-directed the Netflix hit Blood Sisters, the streamer’s first Nigerian original. The streamer paid tribute to him in a Twitter post, saying his death was “a monumental loss to Nigeria’s film and creative industry. He will be remembered as a powerhouse who made some of the finest films out of Africa. As we mourn him, we commiserate with his family, friends and colleagues. May he rest in power.”
Born in 1967 in the small northwestern Nigerian town of Kafanchan, Bandele studied drama at Obafemi Awolowo University but left Nigeria after graduation at age 22 for London, bringing with him the manuscripts of two unpublished novels. He quickly found a publisher and, a short time later, received his first commission from the Royal Court Theatre, launching a second career as a playwright.
He wrote extensively for the stage but did radio dramas and television screenplays, too. Three years after arriving in Britain, the BBC picked up one of his teleplays for its Screenplay anthology series and attached a young up-and-coming filmmaker to shoot it. His name was Danny Boyle, the future director of Slumdog Millionaire.
Bandele made his own directorial film debut in 2013 with Half of a Yellow Sun, an adaptation of the 2006 novel of the same name by Nigerian writer Adichie. Starring Ejiofor, Newton and Anika Noni Rose, the film is a family drama set in 1960s Nigeria against the backdrop of the country’s civil war and its fight for independence. It premiered at Toronto.
His résumé also included the romantic drama Fifty, which bowed at the 2015 London Film Festival and followed four Nigerian career women living in the upper-middle-class neighborhoods of Ikoyi and Victoria Island in Lagos; several episodes of the popular African-set MTV drama series Shuga; and the 2020 music documentary Fela Kuti — Father of Afrobeat.