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Mandela, the biopic
A review of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Ghanadot

December 27, 2013

Indeed, a fitting title for a biopic, the “Long walk to freedom.” It has been a long walk for Nelson Mandela and South Africa. At the end of the movie, you feel elated. But will the elation last in the real life of South Africa?

This movie has Idris Elba in the role of Nelson Mandela. The character is magic. So is the actor, who played that role.

There is tension from the start and it builds up all the way to the end. You know good will overcome evil, like in a morality tale. You also may know the end because you have read the book by that same name.

But you are now meeting Naomie Harris, playing Winnie Mandela on screen, who is destined by talent to complicate your assumptions more than a bit. And soon, your prejudices about Winnie just wouldn’t hold with Naomi busy on screen. She just will not let you off easily. She is fierce, dynamic and very good.

She starts in a quiet militant fashion. But her political passion is to grow as the story progresses. Through superb acting, she is able to expose on screen, a character dimension that the real Winnie is not able to do in real life.

Finally, Winnie Mandela, the woman who is said to have been unfaithful to her husband, has a mouthpiece. And immediately, you are forced to suspend judgment about her.

All this happens within a matter of two hours, which is about the total duration of the film.

But there is something else. The electricity Naomi unwittingly creates on screen also raises a possible moral conundrum for Mandela’s legacy. With her performance as Winnie, Naomi raises doubt about the appropriateness of Winnie’s treatment by her husband; on account of the accusations against her.

How could he Mandela have been so abrupt with Winnie? How could he not forgive her?

Mandela’s frees the conscience of the entire race of Boers but he will not stem the retribution against this woman, his wife, who liberates the conscience of the world to fight against the atrocities of the apartheid regime.

The real Winnie’s marriage begins to fall apart when her husband is freed after 27 years of imprisonment.

This is the man she clearly loves, shares deep political convictions with, fought for, and suffers prosecution and brutalities, on account of being Mandela’s wife, in the hands of apartheid officials; not to mention also the stings from rumors of infidelity running within the ANC.

As Winnie’s ordeal as wife and political activist unfold on screen, you begin to check her many sacrifices along with the accusations leveled at her. The creeping conclusion is that her supposed crimes, in the context of the political turmoil in apartheid South Africa at the time, can be classified as valid collateral damages; regrettable though they are, but still excusable under the doctrine of reconciliation.

Even so, she is the one who is ultimately left empty of marriage. Or rather, made the sacrificial lamb.

Philosophical difference also surfaces soon after Mandela is released. Winnie is suspicious of the apartheid regime while Mandela is leaning towards forgiving them.

Things come to ahead when Mandela comes home one evening. Winnie, actively militant in a battle fatigue, is addressing a crowd outside her home. Mandela drifts pass her, showing no concern for the belligerent cause she represents on her sidewalk.

Later inside the house, she tells Mandela about the anger of the people. And cautions, that they are not ready for the “reconciliation” she knows Mandela wants.

You know it is over when Mandela brings up the subject of loyalty. Winnie’s fate as a former wife is now cast. You wonder whether Winnie is given enough time to recant or even ask for pardon.

“You are angry. I’m angry. We all are angry but you must show loyalty,” Mandela says to Winnie.

By the accusation of lack of loyalty, does Mandela mean betrayal to the cause or a protest of a personal nature - her infidelity while he was in prison?

Mandela’s utterance may sound like a personal indictment against Winnie rather than one for the cause, because, about this time, the ANC has the same stance as Winnie’s.

Lodged within the “loyalty” encounter is a question that may strike at the moral fiber of Mandela’s legacy. But the answer may be too complex for mere mortals. Perhaps, this is why many consider Mandela a saint.

Meanwhile, the shift in power, from white to black, has already begun. By all appearances, Mandela is the leader, starting early with his release from prison.

Apartheid South Africa is on her knees and suing for peace. The regime ultimately arranges a meeting with Mandela alone. The Boer negotiators are now facing a man who is morally their superior. And this is when Idris Elba, as Mandela, is resplendent on screen.

Mandela senses something else.

He identifies the brutalities against blacks as a result of the state of fear in the mind of the minority white South African. He will not allow fear to dictate actions in a new South Africa.

Against the backdrop of the negotiations comes a series of rioting in the various townships. To quiet things, the apartheid government invites Mandela to broadcast a television statement to the nation and the world. He agrees. But what is he going to say?

“We are the leaders,” he has already said to the ANC. “We must lead.”
Regrettably, he has also admitted his wife “is the only victory” they have had over him.

He begins by pulling a stained piece of paper from his pocket and reads the message on it: There must be no peace. Give us guns to fight, the author has written.

But Mandela rejects the plea. Instead, he wants the people to go to the polls and vote in the coming elections.

The ANC wins the elections and Mandela becomes the new president. His doctrine of reconciliation is in motion.

The “reconciliation” concept, devoid of any historical references of deceptions and subterfuges, is a noble one. But it still looks brittle with Noamie Harris, as Winnie, on the screen.

The future will tell.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, publisher,, Washington, DC, December 27, 2013
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to . Or don't publish at all.





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