Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Dec 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Walking Tall

mandellaMan behind myth explored in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom—the latest biographical drama from Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl)—is in many ways as thoughtful and imposing as both its subject, the formidable Nelson Mandela, and its impressive star, Idris Elba.

The real-life Mandela passed away this past December, at the age of 95, lauded and eulogized the world over as an icon of peace, humility, forgiveness and cooperation. But Mandela was far more complicated than the stoic, sagacious, grandfatherly peacemaker so beloved by the world in his later years.

Chadwick's film (based on Mandela's own autobiography) is a manful attempt to explore the currents of deeply ingrained racism, political injustice, and corrupted human nature that turned an ordinary South African child into an uncompromising fighter for social justice and racial equality—at any cost.

The film opens with a burnished, hypnotic tribal manhood ritual for the young Mandela and other boys in his tiny village in a small rural province. By the mid-1940s, he's a successful Johannesburg lawyer (now played by Elba), winning civil cases even though white witnesses of the ruling minority class become incensed at being contradicted by a black man on the witness stand. He's more interested at first in his own career and charming the ladies at the neighborhood dance hall than in joining the African National Congress (ANC), a party devoted to the rights of the black majority.

But when a friend is beaten to death by white policemen for the crime of being black, Mandela becomes politicized, organizing massive, but peaceful protests and boycotts with the ANC. In 1948, “enforced segregation” (i.e. apartheid) becomes the law, and the Mandelas, like thousands of other black families, are removed from their homes and sequestered together in ex-urban townships. When a protest in Soweto leads to white cops shooting and killing scores of black demonstrators, and the ANC responds with acts of sabotage, blowing up (empty) military buildings, Mandela reaches the top of the Most Wanted list.

The story touches all the known incidents of Mandela's political life: his trial for conspiracy (and his famous speech professing himself “prepared to die” for the ideal of equality), his 27 years in prison, mostly spent in one tiny cell, where black inmates were subjected to petty indignities like being forced to wear short pants and getting only one (heavily censored) piece of mail per year. But the film is most effective in showing the toll Mandela's activism takes on his personal life.

Driven off not only by his dangerous politics, but by Mandela's extramarital affairs, his first wife leaves him and whisks away the children he rarely sees again. He's smitten with Winnie Madikizela (a vibrant Naomie Harris), a social worker. (“I heard you have a lot of girlfriends,” she teases him. “I'm different.”) After they marry in a gorgeous tribal ceremony in his mother's village (the African music throughout the film is terrific), she bears two daughters, but they're still small children when Mandela goes to prison, and he misses out on their growing up.

Winnie is also harassed and imprisoned during the intervening years, and it hardens her. Mandela is nearing 70, at the end of his confinement, when he collaborates with white president De Klerk to end apartheid, curtail violent protests, and establish democratic elections (which Mandela will later win, becoming the first black and democratically elected President of South Africa). But Winnie is out in the streets in battle fatigues preaching revenge. The greatest tragedy in the film is that after all they have both suffered, they can no longer comfort each other, and their marriage ends in divorce.

Lots of incidents feel rushed, despite the film's length, and Mandela's third marriage isn't even mentioned. But Elba's presence centers the story as his Mandela evolves and matures. And the film succeeds in portraying both Mandela and Winnie with human faults intact on their respective long walks to their destinies. With Mandela still so recently gone, the film also serves as a timely reminder of both the price, yet necessity of activism against injustice, and of the value of Mandela's ultimate message—forgiveness—in building a new and just society. 


MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM ★ ★ ★ (out of four)With Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. Written by William Nicholson. Directed by Justin Chadwick. A Weinstein Company release. Rated PG-13. 140 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Is This a Dream?

A beginner’s guide to understanding and exploring the uncanny world of lucid dreams

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Stocking Stuffers

The men behind the women of the Kinsey Sicks Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet explain their own special brand of ‘dragtivism,’ and their holiday show at the Rio
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Tramonti Pizza

Why there’s no such thing as too much Italian food in Seabright

 

Guitar or surfboard?

Guitar. The closest thing I ever came to surfing was sliding down a rock hill. Charlie Tweddle, Santa Cruz, Hats and Music

 

Fortino Winery’s Intriguing Charbono

At the opening celebration of the new Santa Clara Wine Trail in August, one of the wineries we visited was Fortino. This is where I first tasted their intriguing estate-grown Charbono—a varietal that is one of the rarest in California, with only 80 acres grown statewide.

 

Beyond the Jar

How Tabitha Stroup has built her rapidly expanding jam empire