I love an event that surprises you. I hadn’t registered that Thursday’s screening of A Long Walk to Freedom at Cinemagic was to be a glamorous premiere. I simply got an invitation from Coca-Cola to watch a movie, said yes after Googling and finding that Mr. Elba would be the main character and that was that. I didn’t expect the red carpet, the trays and trays of juicy bites, the lights and the action.
There was a cocktail in the hour before the screening. A cocktail with all of the shades of Coca-Cola but nary an alcoholic drink. I soothed myself with a second piece of chicken and set to socializing.
At 7pm sharp, we were herded into the Cinema. Now I have to admit something. This was my second time in the history of my life to be in a cinema for the purpose of watching a movie. I was excited but apprehensive. What if I fell asleep during the world’s newest Mandela movie? What would I think of myself at the end? It wasn’t being showed in 3D so we didn’t get to wear those Men in Black bigalubindi.
The first minutes were full of the usual; veld grasses, children running and laughing, boys being initiated into manhood. And also the unusual: uncensored, unrestrained, bouncing male genitalia. I don’t keep up with Hollywood, but this is an impressive development. The female form has been explored both offensively and non-offensively but the male one has been treated like it doesn’t exist. Good job.
Mandela was portrayed as a lively and vivacious character. A lawyer by profession, he was in the rare position at the time of being a black man who could candidly cross-examine white people. This led to him having a very successful practice as many white people would become so angry at his “gall” that they would storm out of court.
He was a playboy, a lover of women and parties. For some of us who don’t know more about Mandela’s story other than what we learnt in school and from articles, it was a surprise to learn that he had three wives during the course of his life and not two.
As Joseph Kahirimbanyi, of the Qwela fame said, there isn’t a Mandela film in existence that will not inspire you. His story, that of his wife and comrades is so powerful that ten thousand variations could be made and each of them will have changed a different person by the time the credits roll.
Sadly, from the beginning of A Long Walk to Freedom, I found it hard to get over Idris Elba’s atrocious South African accent. Good lord. I grew up watching Generations and Isidingo. I enjoy the music of some South African artists. I have also watched Luther. That is why I love Idris the way I love him. I have heard him scream, bark, whimper, growl. I know the man’s mouth, his sound. So I can almost certainly say that Idris went through the whole movie with his tongue folded in half.
He sounded like a person having a stroke. He sounded like you would if your tongue collided with a wall and you had to make a 2 hour speech anyway. He sounded like he had two miniature puppies playing kwepena in his mouth. He sounded bad. We were not fooled for a second. You got used, some minutes into the movie, but it took so much effort.
And then Winnie came in. I loved Naomie Harris’ portrayal of Winnie. Her fire. Her steel. Her delicate beauty. It worked so well. But that accent, Naomie. Please!
Long walk to Freedom is the kind of movie that makes you bi-polar. One minute you’re bursting at the seams with emotion, pushing sobs back and the next your forehead is screwed up, your mouth is twisted and you’re exclaiming, “What did he just say? Who speaks like that? Or “Why does Winnie sound like she has all of Africa’s tongues inside her mouth?
Yes. Winnie sounded Nigerian, Ugandan, and even, possibly Kenyan at the same damn time.\
We are still very young in our walk to freedom if a movie depicting the life, times and struggles of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela prioritizes the views Idris Elba will draw over the authenticity of the portrayal of his character. Sure, the man is a god among us, both in beauty and in skill, but I choose to believe that there is a South African Actor out there, perhaps even one of the people who got lesser roles in the movie who could have done a similarly good job without making our ears so indignant.
What do we learn from a Mandela movie that still ignores capable actors on the continent for the bigwigs who have made it in Hollywood?
I love that 2013 gave us at least 4 movies that openly speaking about the havoc white people wrecked on the earth in the last two centuries. What was happening to these stories before?
Thank you so much Hollywood for the scene of Idris Elba working out in that cell. In his underwear.
There were moments during the screening where even my irritated sensibilities were seduced by the story and the acting. Mandela was portrayed as a flawed man, one who botched up his first marriage and abandoned his son for the struggle. Just watching so much human emotion,so many running and fiery bodies made me think things like: Change is won using warm bodies. No injustices are vanquished without the sacrifice of blood.
Can activists balance both a family and their life-work? Because one of these is going to suffer and more often than not, it is their family that falls by the wayside.
What does it take, what does a man have to be made of to retain his spirit, to remain an activist even in a prison like Robben Island? What kind of grit is that?
Choose a dream that is bigger than you so that it will grow beyond you and so that your existence will have counted for something.
And on Winnie Mandela. I must know more about this woman and her contribution to the birth of South Africa. Her anger, rallying, revolution was what pushed South Africans to revolt and make the white supremacists panic so hard that they had to start talking with Mandela. And his philanthropy, his can’t-we-all-just-get-along that made him so famous as the father of peace was necessary to stop the fires of revolution from consuming black South Africans.
And let me take the opportunity to say I applaud Winnie for remaining loyal to her children, husband and lifework while also recognizing her needs. I got into a discussion about her having sex with other people when Mandela was in jail and honestly. You have to wake up every day and fight, be strong, grieve your husband AND also endure a sexless 2.7 decades? Would infidelity even be mentioned if the roles had been reversed? We all, boys and girls, need to chau. End of story.