Film on Mandela’s life premieres in South Africa
A long-awaited film on the life of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela premiered in his native South Africa on Sunday, stirring emotional memories of the country's turbulent history.
The movie “Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom”, largely based on his autobiography of the same title, traces the life of the anti-apartheid icon from his childhood in the rural Eastern Cape to his election as the country’s first black president in 1994.
The 95-year-old Mandela was too frail to attend the premiere as he is under medical care at home, having spent three months in hospital in a critical condition with a lung infection earlier this year.
His ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said in remarks before the screening that she had “no words” to describe the film’s “translation of that painful past”.
“We should remember where we come from and that this freedom was hard earned and that it was won at a very, very heavy price,” said Madikizela Mandela, wearing traditional Xhosa dress with headwrap.
After spending 27 years in jail for activism against the racist regime, Mandela preached equality and forgiveness in the bitterly divided nation, winning him worldwide admiration as a peace icon.
The two-and-a-half-hour movie will hit South African cinemas on November 28 and will be released in the United States in December.
Reacting to chilling scenes of apartheid brutality against defiant blacks, some of the selected VIP viewers at the premiere could not hide their emotions as tears rolled down their faces at the cinema in Johannesburg’s upmarket Rosebank suburb.
“I cried many times during the movie because it was so emotional,” Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told journalists as he stepped out of the theatre. “It was a very emotional movie.”
“It depicted not only the struggle by Nelson Mandela but also by the people of South Africa.”
Mandela’s close friend George Bizos, the lawyer who defended him during the 1963-64 Rivonia trial in which he and fellow activists were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment, said: “The film will be a very big contribution to our history.”
He told AFP he hoped all South Africans would watch it “in order to realise the important role that Mr Mandela played not only sacrificing his freedom but on the insisting that a peaceful solution to our problem was what he fought for.”
Bizoz added: “I am sorry that he is not well enough to see the film, he would have been very proud of it.”
Mandela is played by British actor Idris Elba, 41, and Winnie by Naomie Harris, also of Britain.
“This story is so much bigger than me, bigger than anyone of us,” said Elba, who made it just in time for the premiere having missed his earlier flight from London after suffering a bout of asthma.
But there were some misgivings about star roles being given to foreigners.
Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer told AFP she was “a little troubled… because we have got wonderful actors here, like John Kani. I don’t know why we had to have a stranger playing Mandela, our Mandela.”
South Africa’s celebrated Kani, whose son Atandwa played the role of the young Mandela in the movie, said he understood “well the passion of South Africans.”
But production costs at times dictated that an international actor be hired and “give a little hope that the people who invest will make their money. Idris Elba is an African, I am happy,” he said, referring to the fact that Elba’s parents are from Ghana and Sierra Leone.