Chiwetel Ejiofor opens up about the intense prep for his directorial debut on Netflix
The Academy Award-nominated actor, and now writer/director, Chiwetel Ejiofor is making his directorial debut with the new Netflix film “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” streaming and in select theaters March 1. Ejiofor, who also stars in the film, joined Salon’s D. Watkins on “Salon Talks” to discuss how the film portrays an rich, inspiring and true African story based around family and science—a sharp contrast from narratives that gloss over the continent or see it through an outsider’s gaze.
The project, which has been in the works for almost 10 years, is an adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. It follows a teenager’s journey to save his village in the southeast African country of Malawi. He achieves this by building a wind turbine to give electricity to his village.
“I love to be thinking about things in terms of the African diaspora and the specifics of that,” Ejiofor said on “Salon Talks.” “There are so many cultural details that are rich and rewarding.”
Providing an accurate portrayal of African culture was very important for Ejiofor. He made sure to stay true to the original story as much as possible by shooting onsite in Malawi and learning the local Chichewa language.
Honing in on the details of this particular African story was important, too. “There’s no sort of generic Africa. There’s some similarities but there are also these distinctions, these differences and individual traits,” Ejiofor said. Because “it’s not what people are, it’s who people are.”
Ejiofor also revealed some of the challenges he faced while directing. “It’s a very steep learning curve and really understanding how much there is to take on board.” For example, the choice to shoot in Malawi presented some structural challenges. “There’s certainly not been a film of this scale made in Malawi, so there was no real infrastructure to make films in the country.”
Watch the video above to learn more about Ejiofor’s directing style, and why he found it difficult as an actor to yell “cut” on his own set. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is available in select theaters and on Netflix March 1.
Photography by Jill Greenberg. Watch Jill's TedxTalk on the Female Lens and the problem with only seeing the world from a man's perspective. And find out more about Jill's initiative Alreadymade., a mission to hire more female photographers and content creators.
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