By Ruth Conniff
Joining the cinematic surge of black-themed cinema, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" is a biopic based on Nelson Mandela's autobiography. It follows him from a childhood steeped in African tradition to his career as an activist attorney, freedom fighter, political prisoner and the first president of a democratic South Africa.
Idris Elba (who has appeared in those flicks about another superhero, Thor) convincingly portrays the anti-apartheid leader through the decades, as he goes underground and leads a campaign of sabotage and armed resistance against the white supremacists.
As Winnie Mandela, actress Naomie Harris likewise realistically ages throughout the film; both actors' flesh seem to have actual wrinkles. The couple's forced separation and the viciousness of the racist regime takes its toll on their marriage and seems to drive Winnie around the proverbial bend.
Actor Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela.
This film is extremely enjoyable, with lots of stand-up-and-cheer moments, and great performances all around. But once Nelson is released from prison the movie's politics take a questionable turn.
In "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Winnie's militancy seems due to madness, while the noble Nelson strives for a nonviolent resolution of South Africa's deepening crisis. Except for the "necklacing" of informers, blacks are mostly shown killing other blacks, without any context or explanation, while Africans are never shown killing their white oppressors.
Much like the depiction of Mandela in Clint Eastwood's 2009 "Invictus," this biopic places significant focus on how he ultimately became an emblem of brotherly love who turned his back on armed struggle. This might explain why South Africa dismantled the apparatus of apartheid, but did not accomplish Mandela's dream of economic justice through wealth redistribution, which has left much of the old white power structure still riding in the economic saddle.
In any case, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" does a faithful job in relaying to audiences exactly what the cost of freedom is. And that's no small feat.
Watch the trailer: