12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor saw his relatives in the “traumatic” content of his new film.
The 36-year-old actor stars in the romantic drama Half of a Yellow Sun, which is based on a prize-winning novel written by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The book is set during the Nigerian Civil War, and although Ejiofor grew up in London, his immediate relatives fled to the UK to escape the three-year conflict that ended in 1970.
“My grandparents were about the same age as the characters in the book and film during the war,” he told British newspaper The Independent.
“My grandfather is very similar in some ways to Odenigbo. He was an Igbo accountant, they were both professionals, both fleeing from village to village when the Nigerian forces tried to crush Biafra.”
Ejiofor spoke to his grandfather for several hours about his experience living in the war, which saw the Igbo people of the southeast attempt to secede from Nigeria to form an independent state called the Republic of Biafra.
According to the star, it took a while for his elder to open up.
“He hadn’t talked about it for years before that, which might be because it felt so traumatic,” Ejiofor explained.
“Then again, it’s sort of normalised because everyone of a certain age there went through a similar thing. At the time [C. Odumegwu] Ojukwu, the leader of the Biafran military forces, lived down the road from my grandfather. I met him. They had all lost people. But they are trying to move on.”
Ejiofor received a BAFTA for his work in 12 Years a Slave and he was also nominated for an Academy Award.
The star says there is clear “connective tissue” between his new film and 12 Years a Slave.