Does Mandela movie live up to the hype?

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iol news 19 jan oped Si mandela hype pic AP This photo released by The Weinstein Company shows, Idris Elba, left, as Nelson Mandela, and Naomie Harris, as Winnie Mandela, right, in the film, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Keith Bernstein)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has received rave reviews since its release, but some feel that it misses the essence of Mandela’s life and role in the struggle for the liberation of all South Africans.

 

“We do not chant as South Africans, we toy toyi”

Lumka Oliphant says the film distorts history of the struggle and divorces Madiba from his ANC affiliation.

Well, #MandelaLWTF! Like What The F***? In the world of hashtags and Twitter handles, LWTF means exactly that. And I bet you thought the same when the Twitter hashtag was introduced to you until that Garreth Cliff moment of correcting you.

That’s why we all laugh at this point.

But this is no laughing matter because I felt Like WTF is this? when I finally watched the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, showing at cinemas and getting global award nominations.

Maybe the creative minds behind the hashtag wanted to give us a light moment, but the storyline left me feeling #LWTF? I'm sorry if I am not going to sing praises of the movie because #?LWTF was that?

Before you accuse me of all sorts of things, let me declare that I am not a member of the black, green and gold party, but somebody must condemn a movie on Mandela that does not centre him around the ANC, his party, his life. Any movie that tells the story of Mandela without locating him within the ANC does not reflect a historical truth and should be rejected as such – a distortion of history.

A movie that does not tell the role of Walter Sisulu and Oliver Reginald Tambo in Nelson Mandela’s political life should not have passed at 54 Sauer Street, Joburg, the headquarter of the liberation movement that made Mandela.

If the script was given the go-ahead at Luthuli House, then shame on you, ANC. Shame on you for not claiming the Mandela name as your own through the organs of state.

In my past life as a journalist I learnt that past presidents are the property of the state. When I spoke to the Department of Trade and Industry and the Mandela Foundation, they said they were working together. But shame on you, ANC, for giving the nod to a story that seeks to divorce Mandela from his organisation. Shame on you for letting a story that compromises our freedom songs.

Shame on you for not picking up that February 11, 1990 was not a Mandela family moment but an ANC and a South Africa moment.

Shame on you for supporting a movie that does not tell our children of the first and the biggest rally on that joyful day at the Grand Parade. How can the day Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison not end at the Grand Parade? Could it be that the movie’s writers were really intent on removing Mandela from his party and being seen with his comrades and his ANC?

The movie compromised even brand toyi-toyi. #LWTF? We do not chant as South Africans, we toyi-toyi.

I thought I was going to have a sense of pride after that movie, but I was left totally disappointed, like many other South Africans who loved Mandela and are proud of his work during the struggle for liberation. I was hoping for a lesson in history and the journey of Mandela and the ANC.

I thought I would hear some “Nelson Mandela! Sabela uyabizwa, sabela uyabizwa! (Respond, you are called)”. See some: “Woza! Woza s’gijime! (Come, let us run)” Yes, I heard some bits of: “Kubi kubi (Things are difficult)”, but did you not notice that we did not get to hear “Noma besidubula, besishaya (Even if they shoot us, if they hit us)”?

Who are we fooling now? The apartheid government was murdering our people. #LWTF was that? I thought I was going to hear South Africans singing; “Ekuseni ngoMgqibelo, ekuseni ngo four o’clock, somkhulul’uMandela Mandela!” (On Saturday at 4am, we will free Mandela). What a compromise of the story of the ANC, of HIStory.

I tried to count how many times the actual words ANC were mentioned, and they are few. I tried to look for the colours of the ANC, but I could not find many. They settled for the UDF rally where Zindzi Mandela read her father’s letter.

We might look like we are cry babies or whiners when we ask for our actors to be given the lead roles in these movies, but giving these roles to foreigners continues to be the biggest mistake in telling our stories.

I missed Winnie Mandela’s way of shouting “Amandla!” Like Queen Elizabeth has her wave, our Winnie has her way of clinching that fist and shouting “Amandla!”

Some of the small, but important, things of language and authenticity of the story were lost. The dialogue between Evelyn and Mandela was lost because the writers were aware of the injustice British actor Idris Elba would do to Xhosa.

I can bet my month’s salary Evelyn would not have called the former president “Nelson”. She would have called him “Madib’omhle (Great Madiba)” or “Tata” or “Dlomo wam’”, to show her loving but respectful and slightly submissive side of a rural woman.

I looked for the role of Govan Mbeki, but it was nowhere to be seen. History will judge the ANC harshly if the party doesn’t take ownership of our struggle heroes and heroines.

I was happy, though, that I did not spend a cent to go watch the movie, and I will not take my children to watch it either. I will settle for Sarafina!, some apartheid museum and encourage them to read the book that tells of where we come from as South Africans and as Africans.

What a pity this story is being flighted in 2014, the year South Africa celebrates her 20 years of freedom – the year of the election.

* Oliphant is a government communicator writing in her personal capacity.

 

“A legend like Mandela cannot be boxed into 141 minutes”

Munyaradzi Vomo argues that there was a lot to tell in one story, but director Justin Chadwick did an amazing job to fit it all in.

It is a little over two months since the release of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom in South Africa and judging by the international attention it got through award nominations, producer Anant Singh and friends did a good job.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the recent Golden Globe awards and the upcoming Academy Awards have all given the film the nod in one category or another.

Although Idris Elba hasn’t received any accolades for best actor yet, this does not take away from the fact that he did a stunning job of retelling the story of Nelson Mandela. Based on the book Long Walk To Freedom, which Madiba penned upon his release from an almost three-decade incarceration, the movie seeks to cram the over 700 pages of the man’s life into just 141 minutes.

That is a mammoth task because a lot of material has to be shed without weakening or distorting the story.

This is the first thing that the writer of the screenplay, William Nicholson, got right. In the supplied 141 minutes, the production team had to tell the story of Mandela from a young age, getting circumcised as part of the Xhosa culture, his moving to the city to pursue law, how he gets involved with politics, his love for members of the fairer sex, the systematic attacks on government property, the David Motsamayi stint, incarceration, negotiations with his oppressors, his release, the conflicts with Winnie leading to their divorce and the first democratic elections.

If we are going to be fair, that is a lot to tell in one story, but director Justin Chadwick did an amazing job to fit it all in there. Mandela’s history is so rich it would take a long TV series to actually fully retell the legendary man’s life, but as far as a movie goes, we understood his struggle as if we were there and this is because of several good decisions that were made for the film prior to its production.

The first thing that was impressive was that the English-born – and frequently mistaken as being American – Elba was chosen for the role.

Given that he looked nothing like the man, a lot of people speculated that this idea would not fly.

However, if we look at the recent Golden Globe Awards, Elba got a nomination in the best performance by an actor in a motion picture category that included the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, all stalwarts. Although McConaughey scooped the award, it only means Elba is in the top five best actors of 2013.

And indeed he pulled off the Mandela character. From the hoarse voice to the Madiba dance, these were all foreign to Elba but he did his best.

The writer even avoided putting Elba in a position where he would need to speak a lot of Xhosa, and while that came off as unauthentic, especially when he spoke with his mother, it was the safest way to do it. This would save them from the embarrassment that Leonardo DiCaprio suffered in his ridiculous Rhodesian accent in Blood Diamond.

With the numerous pieces of the complete Mandela story at his disposal, Chadwick decided to go with the human interest angle. So we see more of Mandela the family man, the man who had a strong relationship with his mother and who was heartbroken when it became apparent that he and his wife of many years, Winnie, had to divorce.

They portray his legendary love for children and how he just had a soft spot for humanity. If you understand that a legend such as this cannot be boxed into 141 minutes, you will appreciate the version of Mandela that Chadwick directed.

Another powerful piece of the story came through Naomie Harris, who played Winnie. She was so convincing in her portrayal of the rebellious leader that some critics felt she too deserved an accolade or at least a nomination.

This is considering that, not so long ago, Jeniffer Hudson starred in a film where she portrayed Winnie Mandela. It was a dismal attempt that saw the project go almost unnoticed.

Although our own local actors rarely get principal parts in international films, this was not the case here. The likes of Riaad Moosa and Tony Kgoroge were in most of the scenes that Elba was in and so they too were prominent.

We even had a pool of other local actors take on smaller roles and these included Lindiwe Matshikiza, Thomas Gumede and Nokuthula Ledwaba.

Since the story spanned the years from a young Mandela to his his mid-90s, careful make-up and ageing artwork were administered accordingly. This helped fix the time of any given story arc.

Although prominent in the history of South Africa, incidents like the Sharpeville massacre and the June 16, 1976 attacks were shown but not dwelt on.

Chadwick keeps reminding you that this is a story about the events leading to the emancipation of South Africa, through Mandela’s eyes.

So it explains why even his close friends were not featured as much as some people would like. That would just confuse the viewer because it would mean developing all the characters, resulting in several storylines.

For a film that wanted to sum up the rise, fall and triumph of Nelson Mandela, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom did it.

* Vomo is an entertainment reporter for Star Tonight.

Sunday Independent



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