Published: Friday December 6, 2013 MYT 7:20:00 PM
Updated: Friday December 6, 2013 MYT 8:21:23 PM

Nelson Mandela: His life in the pictures

Morgan Freeman has probably given the most seminal portrayal of Mandela in the movies.

Morgan Freeman has probably given the most seminal portrayal of Mandela in the movies.

Taking on Mandela in the movies is not for the weak. Here are eight actors who have tried to impersonate or interpret him, and the films that passed the test.

Some of the best actors have been cast as Nelson Mandela on film and in television over the last 26 years. Mandela himself made a cameo appearance at the end of Spike Lee’s 1992 movie Malcolm X. His life will no doubt be the subject of more films to come, but here are eight actors who have tried to impersonate him or to interpret him, and the pictures that passed the test.

Danny Glover – Mandela (1987)

Glover was coming off The Color Purple and hitting the big screen with Lethal Weapon when this HBO film from BAFTA-winning director Philip Saville came along. Glover was nominated for his first Primetime Emmy, but lost the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special award to Jason Robards.

Sidney Poitier – Mandela And De Klerk (1997)

Directed by Joseph Sargent, who also did The Karen Carpenter Story, this Showtime movie starred Poitier in his second Primetime Emmy nominated performance, opposite Michael Caine as FW de Klerk. Like Glover, Poitier was up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special, but lost to Armand Assante.

Dennis Haysbert – Goodbye Bafana (2007)

Haysbert had just finished seven years on the TV hit 24 when he landed this gig with Oscar-winning director Bille August. The film, about the relationship between Mandela and his censor officer and prison guard James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes), was based on Gregory’s book Goodbye Bafana: Nelson Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend. The film’s DVD release features an interview with Mandela in which he remembers Gregory as “one of the most refined warders… Well-informed and courteous with everybody. Soft spoken. Very good observations. I developed a lot of respect for him.”

Clarke Peters – Endgame (2009)

This UK Channel 4 movie homes in on the secret high-risk negotiations between the African National Congress and the Afrikaner National Party to bring about the end of apartheid and the release of Mandela. Though he never met Mandela, Peters did meet his Robben Island inmate, who told him that when Mandela heard his son had died, he stood at his cell window for four days, avoiding human contact and food. “When he turned away from the window he was a changed man,” said Peters. “I think he was having a very deep conversation with God – that God imbued him with that extra bit of wisdom, that extra bit of patience.”

Morgan Freeman – Invictus (2009)

Clint Eastwood’s biographical sports drama was based on the book Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Made A Nation, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Freeman was nominated for an Oscar, as was co-star Matt Damon – who played François Pienaar, the captain of the rugby union team the Springboks. Though Freeman lost to Jeff Bridges, South African actor Sello Maake Ka Ncube – who has portrayed Mandela on stage and says it’s the “toughest role” for an actor, “like doing Martin Luther King or Malcolm X” – praised Freeman for capturing Mandela’s “intellectual sharpness”.

David Harewood – Mrs Mandela (2011)

BBC’s single drama about Winnie Mandela was one of two movies out that year revolving around Nelson Mandela’s second wife. Harewood, who had a string of TV credits including the 2009 BBC series Robin Hood – in which he played Friar Tuck for one season – was cast as Nelson. But it was Sophie Okonedo, an Oscar nominee in 2005 for Hotel Rwanda, as Winnie who stole the show and the BAFTA nomination.

Terrence Howard – Winnie Mandela (2011)

In the other Winnie Mandela movie, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson was overshadowed by Howard’s Nelson Mandela. And despite having a South African director, the casting caused controversy over whether the actors had mastered the accents. The movie got such negative reviews at a film festival that it was withdrawn for a major overhaul. Darrell Roodt said his movie “got emasculated in the editing process because it was trying to be honest… There were just too many things in it that would offend too many people.”

Idris Elba – Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (2013)

If Elba looks familiar, it’s because you know him as Heimdall from the Thor movies. Maybe Mandela did, too, because the producers of Long Walk To Freedom say he was delighted with Elba’s portrayal of him in the film. “Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) saw Idris as the old Mandela in the prosthetics and the trademark shirt and he said, ‘Is that me?’” said Anant Singh, who worked on the project for 17 years. “It was very cute, and he smiled and laughed, so it was very good.” The film is a big-budget adaptation of Mandela’s bestselling 1994 autobiography of the same name and spans his entire life.


Tags / Keywords: Entertainment, nelson mandela, mandela in movies, films about mandela, actors who have played mandela


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