4 Stars — Inspiring
It may be an ironic twist of timing that the same day Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had its premiere in London was the same day that Nelson Mandela passed away in his beloved South Africa. Mandela’s story has taken on mythical and spiritual overtones that inspire saintly admiration and respect. This docudrama brought to the screen by Justin Chadwick is a good representation of the struggle Mandela went through to achieve his ideal of equality in his country.
For anyone who has read Mandela’s autobiography by the same name, this is a much-abbreviated version of his life. It also doesn’t delve into the remarkable risks he had to take once he became South Africa’s president to move the country away from civil strife to a united people borne of the principles of nonviolence espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus of Nazareth.
It does show, though, the personal tragedies that he endured, including the growth and eventual death of his marriage to Winnie Mandela, and the differences in conclusions that each of them came to from their experience of pain.
There isn’t anything new to learn here about Mandela unless you haven’t followed his life or read his works, including his autobiography. If you hadn’t already been familiar with his story, then this shortcut to history is well worth seeing. It would be particularly educational for the novice of South Africa’s recent history to follow up this film with the viewing of Invictus (Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon), the great story of how Mandela galvanized the nation through sports to bring black and white South African’s together to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
To the outsider, the South African struggle would seem to be exclusively a struggle for justice for black Africans. There is little doubt that the 300 years of colonial rule at the horn of Africa subjugated the Zulu people and a group of small tribal states to racial bondage. Unlike the conditions leading up to the American Civil War, in which African-Americans made up about 14 percent of the population within the United States, South Africa’s population of 51 million people was controlled by a white ruling class of about 6 million. Of the remaining 45 million people, 40 million were black and 5 million were from India and considered “colored.”
Nevertheless, South Africa's white population was in many ways subjugated by its own fear and resulting repressive leadership. It is with this recognition that Mandela’s wisdom as a leader showed its brilliance. He never denied his anger or his hurt, but he also recognized that anger and hurt was driving him and his followers to become the same evil that they were fighting against.
To create equality was going to take forgiveness; a bitter pill for many to swallow, including his wife, Winnie. America’s Constitution may have been built on Biblical principles, but Mandela built his leadership on a Gospel model of reconciliation.
One white South African who walked out of the theater near me said tearfully that Mandela had freed him, too, when he was a young man in his 20s. He said Mandela sought to build a new culture of love and respect for all people that none of his family and friends had ever experienced before. When he looked back on Mandela’s life, a story that was hidden at that time from most South Africans by a repressive political regime, he commented that he would have never believed it possible that 20 years later South Africa could have become a model of peaceful transition under the leadership of one humble and quiet black man.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a good history lesson, a good civics lesson, and a great spiritual lesson. No matter what brings you to this classroom, you will be leaving with so much more to apply to you own life.
» Vengeance has destroyed so many lives. Why do you think so many people still surrender their own future to destruction by returning evil for evil?
» Mandela’s tribal elders and Methodist elementary education taught him the value of community. This value sustained him throughout the most difficult moments and ultimate triumphs of his life. What are your primary values by which you live your life?
» Setting free the oppressor and the oppressed is our goal if we are to move forward toward true “peace on earth.” How are you a part of this “truth and reconciliation” process in your own sphere of life?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.