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 the 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 narratives here, not including documentaries), which, if you think about it, is a shame, given the global iconic awareness of the man.
And now it looks like Out of Africa Entertainment, Blue Ice Films and Left Bank Pictures might be thinking the same thing, as they've reportedlt started 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.
They have also been granted access to archives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The producers are said to be in talks with "a short-list of high-profile directors," with principal photography scheduled to begin on location in South Africa later this year.
Emmy and BAFTA winner Nigel Williams (Elizabeth I, Fortysomething) is penning mini-series, which will comprise of six 1-hour episodes, which will cover Mandeal'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.
Words from the producers on their intent:
“Two extensive research trips have already been completed to compile information on his life... This means we will be capturing the complex and tumultuous world Mandela lived in, as well as a number of other great people who surrounded and worked with him and helped make him the great man that he is... There have been many documentaries and features about Mandela, but this will be the definitive story... Other projects have captured a moment in Mandela’s life and not taken the time to explore the man in detail. We elected to do a six-hour miniseries to fully explore the man, the myth and the legacy.”
No official release dates or territories yet. But I'm sure we'll be hearing about it throughout the year as the project develops.
I should note that there have been rumors that Idris Elba is attached to a Nelson Mandela project, but we've received no official confirmation on that, which is why we haven't posted that here yet. Idris himself once said in an interview, posted here a few months ago, that playing Mandela is a dream role for him. So, it could very be true that he is attached to a Nelson Mandela project; if so, could it be this one?