Many know the story of Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa, but few are aware of the role Winnie Mandela took on. The movie “Winnie Mandela” gives us a brief history lesson from her end of the spectrum.
Winnie Mandela (Jennifer Hudson) was born the sixth daughter of a school teacher who was the son of a tribal leader. Although her father was deeply disappointed when he did not have a son, he quickly realized that his daughter was astute and that she would make her mark in South Africa. Winnie’s grades in school are so good that she is awarded a scholarship to go to school in Boston, but she turns it down to stay in Soweto to study and work as a social advocate. It is here that she meets the young Nelson Mandela (Terrance Howard), who has already begun his battle against the tyranny of apartheid and the two are eventually married. The authorities are onto Mandela’s activities and one indomitable official by the name of De Vries (Elias Koteas) is determined to have Mandela arrested. Mandela goes underground, but he is caught and sent to trial for treason.
Mandela is tried in a court of law, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. Winnie now picks up the burden of the fight against apartheid and becomes the “mother of the country.” The trials and tribulations of Winnie’s struggle are now the focus of the movie. During her leadership period, she is incarcerated for over 500 days in solitary confinement in an effort to break her spirit; relocated and put under house arrest; and constantly harassed by not only the officials, but by local gangs trying to run her off. It is here that things go wrong. Winnie becomes associated with a gang of thugs posing as a soccer club. Power goes to her head as civil unrest spirals. The practice of “necklacing” (placing people in tires and burning them) is endorsed by Winnie as a method of keeping her foes at bay. Eventually Winnie gives the okay to murder a young boy who is branded a traitor and this leads to her downfall. Nelson Mandela spends 27 years in jail, but when he is released and becomes president, he disassociates from Winnie for the sake of the country.
I thought that the acting by both Hudson and Howard were very good (especially Howard in the Mandela role). The only thing that I could not figure out was why Nelson appeared to age, but Winnie did not. After the fifty or so years covered, Nelson was grey and somewhat withered and Winnie looked like she was still in her 30’s going to day spas. Elias Koteas (SVU) was very good in his supporting role as the relentless official De Vries. The movie seemed to get off track when Winnie took control and the infighting began. You could not tell which gang, was fighting what gang (kind of like the streets of Chicago). Director Darrell Roodt’s Canadian made film is based on Winnie Mandela’s autobiography, but Winnie did not endorse the movie. Overall, I did learn some things and I think it worth the watch.
My Rating: 3 of 5 Soccer Clubs.