Film captures life of African National Congress icon and first post-apartheid president
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
This film is based upon an autobiography of the same name released by Nelson Mandela in 1995 during his second year as president of the ANC-led South African government. Within the introduction of the book Mandela reports that he started to write his life story while still detained at Robben Island prison in 1974.
He later smuggled out a preliminary draft of the manuscript but it was not completed until his release and ascendancy to the leadership of the first non-racial government founded in 1994. Mandela points out that after his release from prison in 1990 he was consumed with re-organizing the ANC into a political party, leading negotiations for the transfer of power from the racist Nationalist Party and winning the 1994 elections that he had very little time for writing.
Mandela?s death on December 5 resulted in what was perhaps the most widely covered series of memorials and eulogies in media history. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom continues this process and will of course be subjected to various interpretations and assessments in regard to the films accuracy and artistic depiction of his legacy.
Starring as Mandela is Idris Elba, an African-British actor, who was born in 1972 in London of parents from Ghana and Sierra Leone. Elba has won a Golden Globe award for his performance in the BBC One series Luther, and has appeared in numerous films including American Gangster (2007), Daddy?s Little Girls (2007) and Prometheus (2011).
His posture and voice in the film are very much reminiscent of the South African leader. The film last for two hours and nineteen minutes, but based upon the rich history of Mandela?s life, the depiction leaves out important aspects of his life and merges several distinct phases of the struggle against European settler-colonialism.
Naomie Melanie Harris does a fine job in portraying Winnie Nomzana Madikizela-Mandela, Madiba?s second wife and comrade in the ANC beginning in 1958. Harris is a Caribbean-British actress born in 1976 to parents from Jamaica and Trinidad.
Harris has a distinguished acting career working as Selena in the post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later and as Tia Dalma/Calypso in the second and third installments of Pirates of the Caribbean. ???She also co-starred in the twenty-third James Bond film Skyfall.
The film takes the viewer from the birth of Mandela in 1918 in the village of Umvezo in the Transkei region of the Eastern Cape through his law practice and ANC work in Johannesburg during the 1940s. In the 1950s, Mandela is shown playing a leading role in the Defiance Against Unjust Laws Campaign, the breaking up of his first marriage and the meeting and matrimonial union with Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela from Pondoland, also in the Eastern Cape.
Mandela and his comrades in the ANC are shown devising their highly politicized defense strategy at the Rivonia Treason Trial of 1964 when they escaped the death penalty only to wind up being sentenced to life in prison. By the mid-1970s, the youth and students in the urban areas reignited the movement paying in many cases the ultimate price.
A new generation of organizers was later sentenced to Robben Island prison and began to interact with the older leaders from the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually the Rivonia political prisoners are transferred to Pollsmoor prison under better conditions.
During the last years of Mandela?s incarceration he was held at a single-family home in an upscale area in the Cape. He was allowed family visits and would eventually open up discussions on the future of South Africa with the apartheid governmental officials, initially to the grave concerns of his fellow political prisoners and the ANC leadership in Zambia.
By the time of Mandela?s release and other leaders from the trial, the ANC had re-emerged as the dominant organizational force in South Africa.
A segment of the film illustrates Mandela?s refusal to accept conditional release under the regimes of Botha and DeKlerk. When he was released the arduous process of political organizing and working to reverse the process of derailing the liberation struggle by the racist regime is covered in a very generalized fashion.
Of course by late 1993 a date for elections is set and the ANC is elected to the new parliament and the presidency by a wide majority.
This film is the latest contribution in a series of depictions of Mandela and the liberation movement in South Africa. Future feature films could very well take up the role of the South African Communist Party, the organized African working class, the Indian Congress, mixed-race communities, the Frontline States, the Organization of African Unity, socialist countries such as the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Cuba as well as the international solidarity movement in Europe and North America in the overall anti-apartheid struggle.