Tomorrow, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the Weinstein’s film based on Nelson Mandela’s authorized autobiography opens. For the first time, I along with a few hundred others – including a handful of Redeemer leaders – had the opportunity to attend the film’s premiere on Monday night. Among those who made an appearance on the stage before the start of the film included Bono and the other members of U2 (they’re on the soundtrack), one of Mandela’s daughters, Zindzi – who looked and sounded so much like her mother, and the actors who play Nelson and Winnie, Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.
I’d seen the trailer of the film earlier in the year and frankly hadn’t planned to see the movie when it came out. (I don’t favor films being made of someone who’s still alive – it feels like such a tall order for the actors to pull off convincingly) – but I’m so glad I got an opportunity to see it. This is a Mandela film that’s well worth watching.
Mandela has lived such a fantastic, difficult, sacrificial, and heroic life – it bears being reminded of over and over again. The film is very fast paced, especially in the beginning building up to Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island. From the start, we’re plunged into apartheid in the townships, we’re introduced to Mandela’s ancestral home where his mother lives, we witness his circumcision ceremony ushering him into manhood, we see him representing clients in his Jo’burg law practice with Oliver Tambo, we’re exposed to the marriage to his first wife Evelyn which crumbles, we see his increasing politicization, and we’re brought face to face with his willingness to sacrifice his family and marriage to Winnie for the freedom struggle. What’s so striking while watching this, especially the scenes of him on Robben Island is that he – and his ANC comrades – were serving life sentences. They didn’t know they would get out alive and the costs were high. They broke rocks in a quarry day in and day out, enduring manual labor and the taunting of prison guards. In terms of family, Mandela didn’t see one his daughters from the age of 3 until she was 16 (!) and he wasn’t able to have a conjugal visit with his wife for more than 20 years. In his absence Winnie takes on the struggle for her self, raising their 4 children as a single parent, and, among other things, serves over a year (16 months) in solitary confinement.
The most powerful scene in the movie for me occurs sometime after Mandela’s release. I remember watching him walk out of prison in Feb 1990 on a small TV in London where I was living at the time. After he comes out, the country continues to deteriorate, the townships are on the verge of erupting. So De Klerk appeals to him to stop the violence as only he can. Mandela’s response is to appear on South African television to remind his nation of what he’s been through – 27 years in prison. He pleads with them to forgive as he has and exhorts them to channel their frustration into a vote. Months later, they do and he is subsequently elected the first black President of his nation. It’s a powerful reminder of the leader that we’ve come to know Mandela to be. (And 4 years after that, he gives up the most powerful office in the land – peacefully, standing down so Mbeki could be elected. How I wish other African leaders would follow Mandela’s example.)
This Thanksgiving as we gather with family and friends, we can be so, so thankful for a life well lived and for a man’s willingness to not just walk toward freedom but in the process to lead his nation toward that goal.