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BET Looking to Expand Miniseries Offerings with Production Based on the Life of Nelson Mandela

BET Looking to Expand Miniseries Offerings with Production Based on the Life of Nelson Mandela

As maybe a sign of what’s to come (see my “Might BET Have its First Primetime Emmy Award Contenders in ‘Being Mary Jane’ & ‘Book of Negroes’?” post here for context), “The Book of Negroes” received a profile spread on the Emmys website, published yesterday, which, in brief, details the project’s journey from thought to screen, with a nod to BET’s investment in more weighty, scripted, original programming, as well as it’s embracing international co-productions like “Book of Negroes,” spreading the cost of production around.

A profile on the Emmys website certainly doesn’t mean an Emmy nomination is in the miniseries’ future; but it’s good press; the right kind of press, especially if wider appeal and critical acclaim is sought.

You can read the entire piece at

Of note, buried towards the end of the profile was mention that BET does plan to produce even more miniseries like “The Book of Negroes,” with a production based on the life of Nelson Mandela in development at the network! 

As Charlie Jordan Brookins, Senior Vice-President of Original Programming at BET says: “These are the kinds of stories that you can’t tell in just two hours… But they are rich, important stories.”

Details on this Mandela miniseries aren’t shared in the piece – other than that it’s in development.

Great black actors like Sidney Poitier, Dennis Haysbert, Morgan Freeman, David Harewood, Terrence Howard, and, most recently, Idris Elba, have all played him on screen. However, in looking over all of those films – even those in which his story was the highlight, the narrative almost 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 the had); and “Invictus” (Freeman and Matt Damon as captain of the South African Springboks rugby team).

Elba’s project is really the only standout; although it’s impossible to pack an entire man’s life in 2 hours, which that film demonstrated, unfortunately, quite well, to its detriment. So really, there hasn’t been what I’d call a definitive Nelson Mandela film or TV series (scripted narratives here, not including documentaries), which, if you think about it, is a shame, given the global icon the man was and still very much is. And while the format still couldn’t capture an entire life, Mandela’s story would certainly be much better served as an event miniseries, told over 6 to 10 hours, as was the case with “The Book of Negroes.”

In 2012, there was an announced miniseries from Out of Africa Entertainment, Blue Ice Films and Left Bank Pictures, that a 6-part TV miniseries titled “Madiba,” on the life of Nelson Mandela, was in development.

The proposed miniseries, the producers shared at the time, was to be based on Mandela’s 2 books, “Conversations With Myself,” and “Nelson Mandela By Himself,” and they said that they had also been granted access to archives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The producers were in talks with “a short-list of high-profile directors,” they added, with principal photography scheduled to begin on location in South Africa in 2012. It doesn’t appear that this ever happened.

Emmy and BAFTA winner Nigel Williams was said to be penning the mini-series, which would comprise of six 1-hour episodes, covering Mandela’s early life, how he became a political activist, his lengthy imprisonment, his eventual release, his Nobel Peace Prize win, and his election as president of South Africa.

I can only wonder if BET has come on board to back this project as they did with “The Book of Negroes,” of whether theirs is something entirely new.

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