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TIFF11: “Winnie” is a Biopic of Mrs. Mandela That Fails to Portray Her As Her Own Person

TIFF11: "Winnie" is a Biopic of Mrs. Mandela That Fails to Portray Her As Her Own Person

Biopic titles can be deceiving. “The Doors” is mostly about Jim Morrison rather than the entire band. “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is not at all about Bobby Fischer. And now “Winnie” is a film that should be called “Winnie and Nelson” because it’s hardly just about her. While Jennifer Hudson appears to have more total screen time in the role of South African activist Winnie Mandela (aka “Mother of the Nation”), Terrence Howard gets the better, more important close ups and lines by portraying her more famous ex-husband, Nelson.

Sometimes it’s just that Howard draws us in more. He’s the greater actor and has the more prestigious part. I guess he’s not a bad gateway to have. For so long Americans have mainly encountered South African apartheid stories through the filter of white protagonists aiding in the struggle. Similar to the annoyance critics have with “The Help.” This time we still have a white director at the helm — Johannesburg-born Darrell Roodt (“Cry, the Beloved Country”) — but we access much of the narrative through our familiarity with Nelson Mandela and the camera’s focus on his expression during so many instances in which we should instead be concentrated on her.

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