The gifts are unwrapped. The family has been kissed and hugged. Chicagoans have mastered the art of driving in several inches of snow and cringing through single digit up to 25-degree weather. And the real hardcore snow lovers were willing to get in their cars and brave a white Christmas Day to see "Nelson: Long Walk to Freedom," which was one of the best gifts that Hollywood has given a holiday movie in a very long time.
Makes a viewer wonder why actor Idris Elba was so hesitant to play the legendary Nelson Mandela. In the Jan. 6, 2014 issue of JET magazine the actor said he "wasn't sure that the role was for me...I expected that they'd want an older actor, someone more distinguished, like Denzel Washington. Plus, I was really stuck on the way Mandela looks and the way I look."
But when an actor masters the role of the person he's playing, any viewer can get past some minor physical differences, and make-up artists can always figure out how to make someone look older. But there is no makeup artist or physical change that can create a believable role or make viewers' eyes stay glued to the screen unless the artist is worth his weight. And Elba clutched the weight of this role like it was as light as a pencil. Oscar-winning Terrence Howard did an admirable job as Mandela in the "Winnie Mandela" film, but there's something special about the way Elba played him. Rugged charm as opposed to gentlemanly charm plus Elba has always had a knack for informing viewers of his emotions through facial expressions before even one word is heard from his mouth.
And even though the real Winnie Mandela took issue with the 2011 movie made without consulting her, the persona of Winnie Mandela was about the same in both the movie named after her and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." And neither was uncomplimentary.
In the 2013 film, which released on Christmas Day, Nelson Mandela struggled with pleasing his first wife Evelyn Mase (played by Terry Pheto) who had no interest in political fighting. In the movie, Mandela's eyes lit up to see massive groups rebel in unity but his wife just wanted to go home and stay out of trouble. But Mandela wasn't exactly an angel. The film didn't shy away from pointing out that Mandela was also a man on the prowl and cheating was always a concern between the two, but his bigger and more important focus was equality.
So who could be more ideal to be his better half than a woman he could court, marry and who wouldn't be intimidated by how fiercely police were targeting him? Winnie Mandela used anger, her own pride for her people and fierce loyalty to rebel once Nelson was captured fighting against African government. While it may seem easy to wag a finger at him and his crew for creating homemade bombs, the film also showed the violence from police (shooting African children at close range, brutal deathly beatings from not carrying an ID, killing adults like hunters, pushing and segregating people from their homes, raising rates for transportation, belittling native people because of skin complexion, etc.).
Mandela pointed out that peace for 50 years had not stopped violence so people were being forced to return violence to survive. And when he was captured, along with the rest of his team from the African National Congress (ANC) and sent to Robben Island to be stripped, he still didn't lose his rebellious nature. His demands to prison guards to be treated equally were met with a predictable response, but he kept up the fight with even the smallest of demands (ex. pants instead of shorts).
Meanwhile Winnie Mandela was being harassed repeatedly at home and arrested while her daughters were in school so they'd be forced to arrive to an empty home. She was later arrested and put into solitary confinement for 16 months. By the time she came home, instead of them wearing her down she became stronger.
And the more Nelson Mandela seemed to accept his life in prison, the more his wife got deeper into the brutal political fight. Moviegoers who didn't see "Winnie Mandela" or know his then-wife's backstory may not realize how deeply she was involved in the fight against apartheid from this film, which is about the only con of the entire movie. Mandela United Football Club seemed to be an afterthought instead of a major part, but the movie can only be so long, and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" chose to focus on the divide between husband and wife as opposed to who did what to who. Questions about infidelity lasted no longer than a few photos. This film was by no means leaving room for idle gossip. The bigger debate was whether fighting or peaceful resistance made sense for African people who'd watched family, friends and strangers die in cold blood. And when Africans started fighting Africans, more complex questions were raised.
Historical films that aren't documentaries sometimes struggle with being both entertaining and educational, and some take scapegoats by using weak comedy and rewriting history. This film, however, mastered how to teach and intrigue. Discussion questions after the film was over may range from marriage to presidency but tried to keep as close to the actual true story as possible.
Although the real Nelson Mandela died on Dec. 5 of this year, this film gave people yet another admirable reason to want to know more about him (and his ex-wife).
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