Based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Idris Elba gives an awarding- deserving and winning performance as the late Nelson Mandela. Directed by Jason Chadwick, this movie is fantastic, in that even though I knew much of the history about Mandela, his African National Congress involvement and ensuing arrest and imprisonment for nearly 27 years, Elba does a good job of conveying this on the big screen.
Mandela would go on to become the first black South African president, after giving so much of his life for freedom from the apartheid system of superiority in South Africa—much like the Jim Crow system in America—wherein blacks in South Africa had barely any rights and had to go around their daily business showing a passport to white authority. This was fact, even though blacks (or Africans) are the majority population in South Africa.
The movie covers Mandela’s childhood through flashbacks and his time as the first black attorney in Johannesburg, South Africa, when he opened up a practice with Oliver Tambo, his associate in the ANC. A good scene shows Mandela testing his mettle as he represents a black maid whose employer had accused her of stealing her underwear. Well the white employer was insulted that this black man—no less an attorney with authority—would even think to speak to her let alone question her about intimate details. Of course, after the lady ran from the witness chair, the case was quickly dismissed. This scene was just a taste into the power that Mandela would wield as head of the ANC and eventual political prisoner.
After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died, there were many stories about him being a womanizer. In Mandela’s case, it shows that he loved women and could have had his pick of anyone as he sashayed around the city. He met and married his first wife, Evelyn, in 1944, with whom he had four children. After about 14 years, she left him because he was “keeping late hours,” and he eventually went to visit his mother in the countryside. His mother admonished him about his wife leaving him, saying essentially that this was the worst thing that could happen.
Shortly after that time, he met and married his second wife Winnie in 1958. But this relationship was short lived, as he was jailed and sent to Robben Island in 1964. He had been jailed off and on years prior to this; even spending time underground, as authorities looked for him for all manners of charges, including treason and inciting black workers to strike. He was given a life sentence, along with seven others and is known for giving his famous “Speech from the Dock,” which included the following:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The movie reveals that upon sentencing, Mandela could have worded his speech in order to grant him a chance at appeal, but he refused. His commitment to the freedom of all blacks in South Africa overshadowed his desire to walk in freedom alone. And although sentenced to life, white authority would eventually cut a deal with him in 1989 to have him returned back to society, because of deadly riots and uprisings in South Africa. It was felt that only Mandela could quell these disturbances and bring peace to the country.
The movie shares Mandela’s time in prison, which was very inhumane and trying. But even imprisoned, he fought for justices and changes for himself and fellow inmates. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom also highlighted the lives of his family, which included Winnie, played by Naomie Harris, and two daughters. Winnie would go on to become more militant and aggressive than Mandela wanted to be. Shortly after he became president in 1994, the two divorced in 1996. His election as president was triumphant, and news accounts of the time showed black South Africans in lines hours long waiting to vote. The scene showing his inauguration ceremony sort of paralleled that of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, as I personally remembered it.
Mandela married his third wife, Graca Machel (who was also the former first lady of Mozambique) in 1998, and he died at the age of 95 in early December, after having struggled with recurring lung infections and other health ailments.
Elba has said in television interviews that he drew his strength and modeled his performance after Mandela, as well as his late father, who died a few months ago. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is in theaters now and a great film for the entire family.