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A cinematic eulogy in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

by Craig Detweiler

I hosted a screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom just two nights before Nelson Mandela died. The legacy of Mandiba was already in the forefront of my mind before the news of his passing. It will be tough to review the film separate from the timing of his death. Audience interest in Idris Elba as Mandela will widen following his massive state funeral in South Africa. The resulting box office and Oscar boost for the Weinstein Company will be considerable. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom arrives at a teachable moment, serving as a timely cinematic eulogy for an extraordinary life. So does it do justice to his legacy?

The danger in every biopic aspiring to definitive status is that it will skim the surface, hitting only the highlights of an extraordinary life. While the facts may be rendered factually and chronologically, the picture may fail to convey the inner life behind the headlines. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom does race through the early years in a remote village upbringing through his rapid rise as a young lawyer in Johannesburg. We see events without necessarily understanding their importance. Only as the action slows down, with Mandela in prison, do we start to appreciate the depth of his character. As he changes, our engagement rises. We see how long and how necessary the struggle becomes. As Mandela grasps his purpose, we grow in our understanding as well.

The filmmakers’ attention to detail, recreating the apartheid era in South Africa, is uniformly excellent. While Idris Elba may not resemble Mandela, he captures the intensity that fuels Madiba’s resistance.

It doesn’t take many Sharpeville massacres to understand why Mandela and the African National Congress shifted f

Craig Detweiler

About Craig Detweiler

Craig Detweiler is a filmmaker, author, and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University. He is co-founder of The Windrider Forum, a traveling film fest designed to spark conversation, awaken compassion, and inspire change. Craig's cultural commentary has been featured on ABC’s Nightline, CNN, Fox News, NPR, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Follow Craig on Twitter @craigdetweiler.

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