The Never Ending Walk…To The Box Office

‘Heard another Madiba film is in the pipeline; it is reported that Long Walk To Freedom, based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is set to go under production, “ahead of several other Mandela projects expected in the next few years.” (Blignaut, C. “Long walk to the Box Office”, 18 March 2012) Sigh, I wish I knew how I felt about that-perhaps I do but maybe for fear of being labelled a ‘hater’ might just consider sitting on the fence. I mean Madiba has got to be the only man who has more lives than a cat itself. One just wonders how long filmmakers will keep rehashing the story of the man.

I would imagine that every angle imaginable has been exploited and the film Invictus summed it all up. Of course there was one released in 2010, with Sophie Okineyo portraying Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in a depiction of the dame’s years during her ex-husband’s years in prison and shortly after his release. An unlikely character played the role of Mandela and it is no wonder I don’t have a recollection of who the man was or the name of the movie for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong I have great admiration for Tata, as do many South Africans but one can get a dizzy spell merely thinking about all the material being sold of the man. From t-shirts to various souvenirs, not to mention the many streets; avenues and roads named after him. Please don’t forget informal settlements-the list is endless, and frankly it’s all starting to give me a migraine. Then there goes the woman who cooked for the Mandela family publishing a cookbook of Mandela’s favourite dishes. It’s just…I’m so conflicted!

To those who might accuse me of being ignorant about the history of our country I would boldly answer that, unfortunately for those with romanticized views former president Mandela is a part of our history-but not the only part. So many individuals were instrumental in negotiating a peaceful political transition that began in 1990 and culminated in the elections of ’94.

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However, it’s a no brainer that our history has been reduced to being about Mandela and (insignificant) others, whose lives must have been lacking in spunk to feature on global cinemas. Quite a slap in the face, wouldn’t you say?  Of course one can’t blame Tata for this. If I continue the Mandela versus others debate I run the risk of betraying the whole intent of this post…moving right along.

The production of Mandela films has not been without controversy. At the very top is the casting of international stars instead of local ones and to say this has disgruntled the latter would be an understatement. I simply couldn’t be bothered because as it would occur I’m not an actor, and I reckon it makes perfect financial sense to cast people who are well-known.

Nelson Mandela is a global icon and someone we are most proud to show off. My qualm though is how he seems to have transcended this iconic status to become a brand; a commodity. I have to admit to feeling particularly offended that at some point the old man became a stop that every Tom, Dick and Harriet from the West just had to make before jetting off from the “motherland”. Suffice to say, this trend has declined and I couldn’t be happier.

I happened to watch a film about Dictator Idi Amin once-okay, maybe twice. With the incomparable Forest Whitaker in the lead, “The Last King of Scotland” proved to be a brilliant film which to this day has left a lasting impression on me about the kind of man Amin was. Because of that I would happily watch the same film over and over instead of fifty more films of the same man; I reckon this would reduce me to comparing who better played the man and so forth.

Therefore, seeing my former president in one or two films would have done it for me hence it is all becoming too exploitative for my liking. Money aside, our national treasures need to be preserved and respected, if not they will continue to fall prey to being caricatures of Western greed. Thankfully, local filmmakers have moved beyond the political and AIDS rhetoric because our country is not one dimensional in the least. There are more stories to tell about love, life, mystery, passion and thrill in our context.

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