BY RUBY CHINGU
*insert background song, U2’s Ordinary Love because it burns the fire of freedom and justice within you*
I watched the film for the first time about two weeks ago, mainly because of Idris Elba, a British actor whom I am a fan of. I know of Mandela, respect and greatly admire his struggles but I was never really interested to know more about the leader who had just passed a little bit more. If there is one distinct success about this film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, it is that it makes you appreciate the freedom that you have and the man who had lived and sacrificed his life for the attainment of it.
I think most people in the world know about Mandela’s struggles against the apartheid system in South Africa. It is the most famous form of ethnic-based discrimination that places the value of the black people lower than the white people. It disregards the black people’s right to live freely and in dignity without being persecuted. This film does portray the elements quite a lot. But importantly, it provides us a glimpse to the person that Mandela was – the man behind the greatness, the lonely soul behind the legend.
The film is based on Mandela’s autobiography which he wrote himself, therefore the accuracy of the narration is reliable. We don’t have to worry much about the accuracy part of the film. As a whole, the direction and pace of the film is a bit weak for me. The two hours of watching the film left me very dissatisfied – perhaps because some of the scenes seemed like they were cut short and the transition from one moment to another were a bit rushed. Therefore, the storytelling part of the film did not really compel or inspire me in a way.
But that’s pretty much the ONLY BAD THING in the movie. Now let’s go to the good parts, which is a gazillion times more. First, it’s the ideology of Nelson Mandela himself that would keep you focused to the screen. He believed in freedom and peace. He fought for it. Secondly, we get to see how Mandela functioned as a leader and a man with millions of followers. Mandela was South African’s undisputed leader by the time he was released. When a great number of the black people retaliated the vile discrimination by the whites with violence, Mandela asked (or ordered) them to stop. He asked them to do the almost-impossible – that was to forgive them. He was angry yet he pleaded with them to put the nation’s interest and avoid a war. Thirdly, we also get to see the characters he relied upon to materialize his vision for a free South Africa – his wife (now former wife), Winnie, his peers from the African National Congress who were jailed with him for twenty six years, his mother and the last President of the minority white government who began the transition.
The acting in this movie is top-notch. Idris Elba is great, Naomie Harris as Winnie is phenomenal to the point that I forgot for a while that I was seeing a film portrayal. She embodied not only the physics but the emotional state of the suffering yet fiercely strong woman as well. The outstanding performance by the actors make the film more of a characters-driven film. While watching the film, the actors were the ones who sustained the flawed plotline. At times we think the film leaves behind a few loopholes but we don’t mind anyway because the performances are great.
The high points of the films revolve around the changing personalities of Nelson and his wife Winnie. From a tight-knit couple during the first few years of marriage, they drifted apart due to the sufferings they encountered and the different ways they dealt with them.
Mandela was raised a flawed man. He was not perfect. The evolution from an aggressive young leader of the African National Congress to the kind soft yet powerfully charismatic old President is the most interesting thing to see. Mandela’s early life had been nothing but perfect. He had a wife before Winnie and barely spending time with her due to his commitments for ANC and his womanizing. They fell in love as quickly as they fell out of love. What happened? Was Mandela unhappy? Or was it perhaps the first wife failed to embrace his fiery spirit to fight against apartheid? If the first wife had joined in the fight as well – like Winnie – would they have stayed together? I think that’s it. They separated because both knew that the lives they wanted for each other was different. Mandela did not have time for family. He was leading half the nation. It was kind of expected, sadly. He did something great for the country at the cost of losing his first family.
Then, he met with Winnie, who was also a subscriber to the ANC’s fight against apartheid. In the beginning, Winnie was like the female version of Mandela. Their ideologies did not differed much. After Mandela was sent to prison for more than twenty years, Winnie was the leader of his followers. She was the unifying symbol of the Mandela factor. She represented him outside the cell he was confined into and she was the one who reminded people about him. Mandela sort of owed his life to her. However, as Winnie struggled against harsh treatment from the minority government (she was jailed and tortured multiple times herself), we began to see the evolution of Winnie Mandela that would set her apart from her husband.
As much as the film is about Mandela, it is also about Winnie. She transformed from the slightly optimistic woman to a somehow embittered leader. She grew to be more aggressive and had a difficult time taking Mandela’s advice to maintain peace and avoid any clashes amongst the South Africans. It was sad to see. She was wholly justifiable in her stance, I think, though I don’t agree with her actions. But we must understand that unlike Mandela who was imprisoned for 26 years and had been away from his followers, Mandela had lived among her people. She was of a closer proximity to their sufferings and grievances. Of course her anger was way more intense than that to her husband. However, Mandela had the rational mind – he was also angry but in the greatest dialogue of the film, he uttered to the deeply-divided South Africans – “We cannot win a war BUT we can win an election.”
BRAVO, MANDELA, BRAVO!!
His struggled paid off. After twenty six years in prison, he was released. The years after, apartheid was abolished and he became President. Justice, freedom and equality is possible. However, the price he had to bear was unbelievably high. For the pursuit of freedom, he lost all things dear to his heart – his first wife, time with his children, his first child died whilst he was in jail, Winnie and to be himself. The scene where Nelson had dinner by himself, all alone at the huge fancy wooden table was heartbreaking. So, after years of sacrifice, this was the life you were destined to have. For the happiness of others, he let go of his.
Thus, as you guys are reading this, surfing the internet and going about your lives, think about the freedom we have and the discrimination we have to face. Mandela has taught me a little bit about not being afraid to hold on to hold tight to our principles. Peace is everything. Death by violence is not worth it. A life can never be compensated. The attainment of freedom is an ideal that is worth dying for.