Friday, December 27, 2013

"Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom" with (2013)

No movie can ever effectively encompass the life of Nelson Mandela. There simply is not enough time to spend on any one portion of his life, and 2 hours is hardly representative of all which he accomplished in his struggle to free his country. That said; this movie shines brightly as a tribute to what one man will endure to breathe life into his dream of being free.

Beginning with memories gleaned from a childhood of tribal rituals, the young Mandela leaves home in the early 1940’s to seek his fortune. In a racially restricted environment which can only be called “Nazi-Lite”, he encounters all of the racial segregation of the Jim Crow south at the time. The only real difference between South Africa and the United States was that the Federal government in South Africa was part of the problem; unlike in America where the central government would eventually become an ally of the oppressed.

Mandela was a skilled legal representative for the poor and oppressed before he became involved in politics. As a matter of fact you could say the his advocacy for the poor was the very thing which made him hyper aware of the abuses heaped upon the African citizens in their own country by the 10% minority, which was composed of the descendants of the original British and Dutch colonists. Working with youth groups and teaching them the skill of boxing brought him into close everyday contact with the people he would someday inspire to take the freedom so long denied  them.

As Mandela became more involved in the political struggle he turned to violence as a means to an end. If the white rulers would not respect the rights due native African peoples, then the people would not recognize the government which so brutally oppressed them. This made Mandela extremely dangerous to the power structure. By 1964 he was granted “mercy” in a court case which gripped the world. That “mercy” consisted of a life sentence with no chance of parole. Moreover, he would serve that time, along with his co-defendants, on an island; basically exiled from his native soil.

The years rolled by, but Mr. Mandela didn't lose his edge; he simply changed directions. An early victory in prison came when he was able to confront the sadistic Commander of the island prison and demand; of all things; long pants for the prisoners. The reason for the request was simple; making prisoners wear short pants made them “boys” rather than men; by demanding long pants they were in effect taking back their manhood. This was the first step in the path of non-violence which changed Mr. Mandela’s life.

Naomie Harris is excellent in the role of Winnie Madikizela, who would later become his 2nd wife. The film does not flinch from showing her as becoming overly militant after her brutal treatment at the hands of her husband’s oppressors. It is highly doubtful that any marriage could have survived these years intact. And her emotional unraveling is yet another result of the inhumanity of the apartheid system which was still in place.

As the 1970’s came to a close, a movement was begun to free Nelson Mandela. That movement was worldwide. Due to the spotlight being shone on the racial inequalities of South Africa, Mr. Mandela was transferred to a prison on the mainland where he was allowed to see his wife for the first time in years and his teenage daughter for the first time.

By the time the 1980’s came to a close Mr. Mandela would be granted his freedom. But if President Botha; or later DeKlerk; thought that this would silence the force that had become Mandela, they were wrong. Instead, he used his freedom to begin the truth and reconciliation committees, which were set up to study the mistakes of the past in order to keep them from happening again. And when these committees were finished with their work a new political era was born in South Africa; and one of the first things to occur was the election of Nelson Mandela as President of the South African Republic.

The film is beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, and the screenplay by William Nicholson stays true to the basic tenets of Mr. Mandela’s extraordinary autobiography. This is a film well worth seeing, made from a book well worth reading and a life well served.

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