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Casting Call: Americanah

As for Blaine's jealous, spiteful sister, the respected intellectual Shan, the film would benefit from Zoe Saldana. The starlet has proven she can play the bitch in Star Trek (though she ultimately warms up to Zachary Quinto's Spock), and swears like a sailor in real life. With her long, slim figure and sharp cheekbones, she's austere enough for Shan's uptight nature and just beautiful enough to be such a terrible person.

With silky-smooth skin, a smoky voice and acting chops to match, Lupita Nyong'o could not be better suited to play the beautiful but critical heroine Ifemelu. While it might be a stretch for the 31-year-old actress to play the high-school version of her character, her breakout performance as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave leaves us with no doubts that she can bend herself to fit any part. And we're certain that Nyong'o, herself high-school educated in Kenya before she arrived in the United States for college, will bring a certain personal depth to Ifemelu's life.

We think Chadwick Boseman would play a fine Obinze. Like Nyong'o, he's got the baby face and acting ability to play both high school and adult versions of his character. Obinze, the other half of this transatlantic narrative, has a more fraught immigration story than Ifemelu—he works under the table in London before he is eventually deported back to Nigeria. Boseman already demonstrated in 42 that he's got the stage presence to carry a film as its leading man, and we'd love to see him bring his fire to Obinze.

Upon arrival in the United States, Ifemelu falls for Yale professor Blaine, with whom she has an on-again, off-again relationship over the course of her stay in Princeton. Blaine is fastidious to a fault, tall, good-looking, and well-intentioned but ultimately small-minded.We'd love to see Jesse Williams take the role—he's nice to look at, and, as he demonstrated in Grey's Anatomy, can play the straight man to a T. He'd be a fantastic sounding board for Nyong'o's Ifemelu to find fodder for her constant critique of American life.

Pam Grier made her name in films like Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, but it's been a while since her name was in headlines. She can play the foxy lady and the comic relief, but we'd like to see if her range extends to the heartbreaking Aunty Uju. Ifemelu's aunt flees to America after her Nigerian lover and financial supporter, the General, is killed in a plane crash. She doesn't find the fulfillment she expected with American life. Ifemelu visits her early in the novel, and her stay in Brooklyn with Uju and her son Dike provides poignant insight into her own potential future.


If we had our way, Gabourey Sidibe would play as Ifemelu's hairdresser, Aisha. Aisha demands why Ifemelu refuses to use hair relaxer and why she rejects her advice on hair extensions, providing pretext for Ifemelu's discussion of immigrant identity. It's a deceptively significant role, and one that deserves the treatment Sidibe would give it.