Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
How unfortunate that Mr. Mandela’s long walk to freedom seemed uncomfortably long when sitting in the theater.
Though this will sound a bit sacrilegious, Director Justin Chadwick has brought us a rather lackluster, tepid film with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. On the other hand, given the fact that Mr. Mandela spent over 26 years in prison, it was probably foolish to expect his life to breathe excitement at every turn.
Apartheid in South Africa was in many ways as degrading as slavery in the antebellum South here in the United States. Black South Africans like Mandela had to assume the role of second class citizens. White society could degrade them without provocation, and any meaningful response could immediately land you in jail.
As Mr. Mandela struggled to change his society, he was forced to take up violence working for the ANC, the African National Council. While he has been criticized by some for this action, we should remember the lesson that blacks in America learned long ago. After all, how can you believe that peace is an option when a U.S. House of Representative’s member from Georgia, James Jackson, justified slavery by citing several passages in the Bible along with the pronouncements of every Christian minister in Georgia in an argument before Congress in 1790.
Prior to the arrest that led to his incarceration, Mr. Mandela’s first marriage failed because he was always away from home. He had to choose between love of country and love of his family, and he paid a heavy price pursuing his dedication to overthrowing Apartheid.
As most of you know, Mr. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, and spent nearly three decades behind bars before being released. Sixteen of those years were spent on Robins Island, where he was confined alone in a very small cell.
Nothing describes the extraordinary strength of Mr. Mandela’s character than his refusal to buckle despite his brutal incarceration. However, that is precisely where the movie lost its steam, as it spent considerable time focusing personally on Mr. Mandela in prison where he could do little more than not lose faith. Unfortunately, as a movie viewer you end up feeling that you were incarcerated with him.
The movie would have benefitted greatly if Director Chadwick had paid a bit more attention to what was going on in South Africa during Mr. Mandela’s lengthy sentence. Though it did look at the struggles of Winnie Mandela, Mandela’s second wife, little else was really achieved.
As for the performances themselves, only two stand out. Idris Elba plays Mandela, and he gives a very effective performance. Unfortunately, he was seen doing little more than engaging in multiple conversations with various people, and the audience was sadly left struggling to identify with a man of noble distinction.
Naomie Harris played Winnie Mandela, a woman who physically and intellectually appeared to be a South African sister to Angela Davis. If you will recall, Ms. Davis gained fame here in the States while speaking on behalf of the Black Panthers decades ago.
Winnie would not accept compromise when it came to seeking vengeance, and it would have been helpful for her to recall what happened to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse after their victory over General Custer at The Little Big Horn in 1876. On the other hand, once you realize that Mrs. Mandela had been arrested and kept in solitary confinement for 16 months with her husband in prison, it was hard to criticize her wounded heart.
Speaking solely as an amateur historian, the strength of Mr. Mandela was that he embraced tolerance and forgiveness when President De Klerk and the other white leaders of South Africa stepped aside. Winnie wanted revenge, which accomplished nothing other than the destruction of their marriage.
Quite frankly, Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus (2009), where Morgan Freeman starred as Mandela, was far more effective in revealing his intelligence, temperament and sense of humor. More to the point, Eastwood only began after Mandela became President, the very moment where Director Chadwick’s movie ends. That was unfortunate.