Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Read What YOU Thought About 'Black-ish' After Last Night's Premiere... Read What YOU Thought About 'Black-ish' After Last Night's Premiere... Storm Would Have to be Recast for Future 'X-Men' Movies. Who Would You Like to See Play Her? Storm Would Have to be Recast for Future 'X-Men' Movies. Who Would You Like to See Play Her? 5 Netflix Streaming Titles You May Not Know Are Available & May Want to Check Out (9/23/14) 5 Netflix Streaming Titles You May Not Know Are Available & May Want to Check Out (9/23/14) Awkward Black Girl's Next Misadventure: Her Own Studio Awkward Black Girl's Next Misadventure: Her Own Studio 101-Year-Old Film Footage Found in Museum's Collection Is Earliest-Known Feature Made w/ Black Actors. First Public Screening in Nov. 101-Year-Old Film Footage Found in Museum's Collection Is Earliest-Known Feature Made w/ Black Actors. First Public Screening in Nov. Angelina Jolie Wants to Take on 'Africa' Angelina Jolie Wants to Take on 'Africa' Once Supporters Now Critical of Actress Daniele Watts, as Civil Rights Activists Call on Actress to Apologize Once Supporters Now Critical of Actress Daniele Watts, as Civil Rights Activists Call on Actress to Apologize Trailer: UP Original Movie 'My Other Mother' (Lynn Whitfield, Essence Atkins, Jasmine Guy) Debuts 9/21 Trailer: UP Original Movie 'My Other Mother' (Lynn Whitfield, Essence Atkins, Jasmine Guy) Debuts 9/21 Wendy Williams is Crushing the Competition in the Ratings, as Queen Latifah's Show Struggles In Last Place Wendy Williams is Crushing the Competition in the Ratings, as Queen Latifah's Show Struggles In Last Place 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Premieres on HBO Tonight (Trailer) 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Premieres on HBO Tonight (Trailer) Watch First Episode of ABC's New Series 'Black-ish' Now Watch First Episode of ABC's New Series 'Black-ish' Now 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Coming to HBO (Trailer) 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Coming to HBO (Trailer) Watch First Full Trailer For 'Black-ish' Starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne Watch First Full Trailer For 'Black-ish' Starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Exclusive: Omari Hardwick Raw (Career Evolution, Transition, Testimony Of Faith In Hollywood, 'Kick-Ass 2,' More) Exclusive: Omari Hardwick Raw (Career Evolution, Transition, Testimony Of Faith In Hollywood, 'Kick-Ass 2,' More)

Review: 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' Anchored by Strong Performances (Opens Today)

Shadow and Act By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act November 29, 2013 at 1:01PM

Review: 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' Anchored by Strong Performances (Opens Today)
1
man

Adapting an autobiography for film always carries a unique set of challenges: making sure to present the subject as fully as the text dictates, but also stepping back for some objectivity and complexity. When the person is Nelson Mandela- the face of the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement- the task becomes even greater.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, and directed by British filmmaker Justin Chadwick, follows Mandela from childhood, to his resistance and leadership within the African National Congress (ANC), his imprisonment, and his long-awaited election as the first black president of South Africa at the close of Apartheid. To capture the extensive amount of action in this period, the film jumps around to different events and people, never spending too much time in one place. An early scene involving Mandela’s alleged adultery in his first marriage, and the family he left behind are given little attention before being overshadowed by later themes and characters.

While the film may have too quick of a timeline, its two stars keep it grounded. During the beginning of the film, it is difficult not to notice that you are looking at a very attractive portrayal of Mandela- the Idris Elba version. I worried that this would take attention away from the story, but it didn’t. Elba gradually transforms into Mandela. Early scenes of him dancing and flirting with women were fun but not as convincing. However, a later scene where he delivers what would become Mandela’s landmark statement during the Rivonia trial showcased his mastery of Mandela’s accent, voice, posture, and presence, culminating in one of the most powerful lines in the film: “It is an ideal for which I’m prepared to die.”

Naomie Harris is a Godsend as his wife and fellow activist Winnie Mandela, showing a delicate balance of tenderness, passion, and anger. While Elba definitely masters Mandela, Harris is endowed with a fascinating character arc in Winnie.  On one of their first dates, Winnie passionately tells Nelson that she “hates” the white Apartheid regime, and they continue to flirt and kiss. Later, when Nelson is imprisoned, Winnie becomes the target of unjust government interrogation and physical abuse. That anger and hatred begin to manifest and grow inside of her. One title sequence reads: “After 16 months in solitary confinement” as she sits frozen in a dank cell, and we are introduced to a new Winnie Mandela. She yells “Amandla Ngawethu” with an earth-shattering force. Harris conveys this character with an incredible range, and we understand why and how Winnie chose a more militant path. Harris’s performance goes up notches through out the film, while is difficult to see that same kind of arc or foundation in Nelson.

In a way, Harris’ and Elba’s portrayals balance out one another, but we are aware that we are watching a great man become greater and nobler, but not always aware of internal conflict in him. Shot in contrasting tones of grays and yellows to match the decay of Robben Island prison juxtaposed with the warm hues of the rural South African landscape, Chadwick wants to convey the many worlds that Mandela experienced, but the treatment of the Apartheid regime was often reduced to scenes of massive shooting and bodies falling. While there is no denying the overwhelming violence during that time, a more distinct and affecting portrayal of the brutality during Apartheid-similar to the psychological toll shown in Winnie- would’ve really elevated the film, and given Mandela a stronger foundation.

Ultimately, this is a film anchored by its performances and reverence for the man it portrays. Harris stands out, adding an unorthodox dimension to the routine biopic format. In those ways, it should encourage viewers to reinvest in Mandela and the spirit and rebellion of the anti-Apartheid movement. 

The Weinstein Company will open the film in the USA on November 29. Watch a 20-minute featurette below, which takes viewers inside the making of the film:



This article is related to: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris


Shadow & ActNewsletter