Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – A Few Thoughts

2CAJ6374.CR2 Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens this weekend, in South Africa and in the US. I’ve read reviews, from both here and in SA, and I’ve tried to reconcile the differing opinions about the film, based on Madiba’s autobiography. I was open in my opinion of the film when I first saw it at its first premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, where some of the cast and crew had been in attendance. I watched the story of Nelson Mandela unfold on the big screen. And yes, in some parts I wondered about how ‘pretty’ the Sophiatown scenes looked, and how clean and vibrant Sharpeville township looked. I questioned some of the historical details merged together or left out – like the fact that Mandela made his SABC address to the nation after Chris Hani’s assassination and not, as depicted in the movie, after the Boipatong Massacre. But in spite of all that, I found the film very moving, and was most touched by Idris Elba’s performance as our inimitable Madiba. I didn’t think he was just trying to mimic the great man; he actually embodied his essence in the way he walked, shuffled, danced, spoke and commanded an audience – both on screen and in the scenes. So I’ve been disheartened to read some reviews saying the film lacks soul. What, if not the soul of it, moved me? Deeply – to tears and a deeper realization that, even though I’d heard the story of Madiba’s life over and over, and read it over and over, I still hadn’t fully grasped what it means to truly live with patience and humility. I had been so moved to see, on the big screen, what it was like for Mandela not to have been able to touch the face or hands of his wife Winnie, as she stood on the other side of the glass pane separating them, while he was imprisoned. Or what it truly must have felt like not to have seen his children for year after year, as they grew up quicker and quicker. Yes, you can read about it in the all encompassing story of Long Walk To Freedom, but when you see it, it is something else entirely. I spent a lot of time questioning my initial response to the film – wondering if I’d been moved by the idea of Madiba being so sick (at the time I saw the film he had just, just been released from hospital). But I have thought about it a lot, and I don’t think that’s the case. I have spoken to friends from Europe, in Holland and in Britain, who told me they were moved by the film too. The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Mandela’s close confidants have lauded it. Yet, many of my American movie journalist colleagues didn’t like it, saying it painted Mandela’s life in broad strokes and was more a Wikipedia entry of his life. But if they had been talking about the Winnie movie with Jennifer Hudson and Terence Howard, then I’d have agreed. With its fake NY Times headlines – complete with a number of ‘!!!!’s and rush-through-story, it had little impact, emotionally or intellectually. After having had to write many a story about Madiba for his birthday over the years, as an Eyewitness News journalist, I know the immense challenge it is to condense his life into a 2-minute piece for radio. What does one leave, what does one spend more focus on? How do words – and sounds or images – do justice to all he, and his comrades, did? To bring it to life in a 2-hour film is an unenviable task but I think Justin Chadwick has done an admirable job, and created the kind of epic Madiba deserves. I was taken aback to read the Daily Maverick’s review which said the director was better suited to to “running demos at Builder’s Warehouse.” Harsh criticism, but perhaps that’s the reality of taking the risk of tackling such a massive task. I, for one, am grateful Chadwick, and the rest of the cast took the film on, and I’m grateful with the outcome.


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