Today in history… July 18th, 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and later the first South African president to be elected in a fully democratic election, serving from 1994 to 1999, was born in Mvezo, a village in the district of Umtata, in Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
Happy 94th birthday Mr Mandela, or should I say Madiba; Needless to say, he’s lived quite a lengthy and involved life.
A life that has been, and will continue to be the subject of scripted films and documentaries.
Great black actors like Sidney Poitier, Dennis Haysbert, Morgan Freeman, David Harewood and most recently Terrence Howard have all played him, whether in projects that were specifically centered around him, or in which his wife, Winnie Mandela, was the focus.
However, in looking over all those films – even those in which his story was the highlight, the narrative always included his relation to some specific white man – in Mandela and de Clerk (Poitier & Michael Caine); Goodbye Bafana (Haysbert and Ralph Fiennes as a prison guard responsible for Mandela, and the relationship they had); and Invictus (Freeman and Matt Damon as captain of the South African Springboks rugby team).
So really, I can’t say that any of them has focused solely on Mandela’s life, absent of any white co-pilot; meaning, there hasn’t been what I’d call the definitive Nelson Mandela film or TV series (and I’m talking strictly about scripted narratives here, not including documentaries), which, if you think about it, is a shame, given the global iconic awareness of the man.
Hopefully, that will be corrected in the next 12 months, as Idris Elba embarks on a project, which is said to be a definitive work on the life of Nelson Mandela, and is, I believe, already in production, with Idris as Mandela, and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela.
Also worth noting, Out of Africa Entertainment, Blue Ice Films and Left Bank Pictures have begun development on a 6-part TV miniseries titled Madiba, on the life of Nelson Mandela – the way that I think biopics are better handled (a miniseries spread out over several hours, instead of a stuffed but still unfullfilling 2-hour movie).
For source material, the producers are looking directly to the man himself, using Mandela’s 2 books, Conversations With Myself, and Nelson Mandela By Himself; a significant change, considering that past films in which Mandela was a character, were based on books written by others.
Idris’ project is based on Long Walk to Freedom – the autobiographical work also written by Nelson Mandela himself, which highlights his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison.
So, 2 major scripted Mandela works to look forward to that actually focus on the man primarily.