Nelson Mandela Is 95 Today... A Brief Look At Past & Upcoming Films On His Life

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
July 18, 2013 10:34 AM
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Today in history... July 18th, 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and later the first South African president to be elected in a fully democratic election, serving from 1994 to 1999, was born in Mvezo, a village in the district of Umtata, in Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

Happy 95th birthday Mr Mandela, or should I say Madiba; Needless to say, he's lived quite a lengthy and involved life.

A life that has been, and will continue to be the subject of scripted films and documentaries.

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 they 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 scripted narratives here, not including documentaries), which, if you think about it, is a shame, given the global awareness of this icon of a human being.

Hopefully, that will be corrected this year, as Idris Elba's Long Walk to Freedom, which is said to be a definitive work on the life of Nelson Mandela, will open in theaters on November 29, courtesy of The Weinstein Company, likely as one of its Oscar contenders. 

MandelaLong Walk to Freedom, directed by Justin Chadwick, highlights Mandela's early life, education and 27 years in prison. 

Today would be a good day to release the film's first full trailer (we've seen a teaser thus far).

It's a film that we've curiously seen very little of, as it's all been kept under-wraps.

Naomie Harris co-stars as Winnie Mandela in a film that producers have said will have an "epic sweep," from a script written by GladiatorShadowlands and Les Miserables writer, William Nicholson.

South African stars Tony KgorogeRiaad Moosa, Zolani MkivaJamie Bartlett, Lindiwe MatshikizaDeon Lotz and Terry Pheto, round out the cast.

Also worth noting, last summer, Out of Africa Entertainment, Blue Ice Films and Left Bank Pictures began 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 unfulfilling 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.

No word yet on where that miniseries project stands currently.

Idris' project is based on Long Walk to Freedom - the autobiographical work also written by Nelson Mandela himself, which highlights his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison.

So, 2 major scripted Mandela works to look forward to that actually focus on the man primarily.

Happy 95th birthday Madiba, even as he remains hospitalized, after weeks battling critical illness.

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More: Birthdays, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris

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