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IN SHORT: Passivity in the face of Brutal Oppression wins the day. [Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language. 139 minutes]
For readers born after 1985, who didn't pay much attention in World History classes, here is the film for you.
Imagine this scenario: You are just starting out as an adult (male). You have a beautiful wife and a very young son at home. You are a lawyer whose new and thriving law practice earns your living.. It also provides many young lovelies who are more than willing to swap sex for service. Or something close to that. The wife will not stand for it and the marriage fails. Then the government passes new laws that takes away your livelihood, forces you to move from your home to a rural slum and spend the rest of your life thanking your "superiors" for the privilege of being alive.
Such was the nature of apartheid -- the forced separation and brutal repression of people with brown skins by people with white skins in South Africa. Apartheid was the logical end result of what post-emancipation slavery could have been in this country (think of the fifty states with several in the Deep South designated "black residents only"). It was a vicious, brutal practice that fall just short of what the Nazis did in Germany. The South African military "policed" the segregated areas and shot at will. The South African police beat the snot out of whomever they wished, first. If there was any kind of gathering of men, they shot at will.
Nazi and apartheid beliefs are so similar -- both are hate fueled discriminatory beliefs whose end result varied onlly a little. Nazis created death camps. The apartheid rule in South Africa forced segregation between black and white citizens, and then let the army or local police kill or brutalize at will. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom should be seen as an equivalent of Schindler's List..
It isn't. It isn't because Schindler's List was a representation of a small part within an overwhelming hatred that drove most of that film. There is a scene here and there in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom that illustrates the overwhelming hatred and brutality of apartheid rule but the focus is clearly put on the one man, Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), who believed in a non-violent struggle against said apartheid rule. Fellow members of the African National Congress, of which he was a leader, did not. Public buildings were bombed. Terrorist acts were committed. Mandela, and other leaders of the ANC, were arrested and sentenced to Life In Prison, on a prison island off the coast of Capetown, South Africa. Even there, there was segregation and unequal treatment of black and white captives. As far as the white Masters of South Africa were concerned, that was that. They were the merciful Rulers, who should have enforced the "Supreme Penalty" (i.e. Death), but didn't.
We should note that Mandela's children with Winnie were a mere two or three years of age when he was arrested. Prison rules would allow no visits of any person under the age of sixteen. You do the math.
As the years turned into decades, a new ANC formed and, as part of the new ANC, Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris), took a role, and was rewarded with sixteen months of solitary confinement. The new ANC turned its back on nonviolence. The "native population" rose against the "europeans" ... black versus white ... and people died. Mostly the natives because the "europeans" had guns.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom's focus on the strained relationship between Nelson and Winnie, does not allow for proper reporting the world's acceptance of an apartheid state. Most of the world spent the later 1940s and 1950s rebuilding from World War II; the distraction of Communism, the Korean War and the US vs USSR "cold war" followed. It wasn't until the 1980s that the world's focus turned toward South Africa; towards the violence and the bodies in the streets and the wrongful imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. The world put economic pressure on South Africa and, when all was said and done, the only man with enough cred to negotiate a settlement was the man serving a Life Sentence on Robben Island.
What we report and how we feel about a film is affected by all the years we have walked on this earth. We fully admit that what we expected of Mandela was not what we got. If we've written a history lesson in the paragraphs above, you are now clear of the baggage that we carried in to the screening room and can appreciate the film for the relationhship that it conveys and how that relationship is affected by the struggle against apartheid. This film should really be called (Winne and Nelson) Mandela because that is the true center of the story.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, he would have paid . . .
To be honest, we cannot remember if we had been aware of Nelson Mandela and his role in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa prior to a 1984 recording by The Specials called "Free Nelson Mandela" which we promoted via our job at a rock radio network. We think so. We were certainly aware of what apartheid was (one word: "bad").
The 9* rating means the film is good enough, in our opinion, to make end of year lists and take statues and other such awards.
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